Jim Waters presents the facts about the number of failing schools in Jefferson County, how much money is really being spent, and how problems facing the district must be addressed. Waters quotes the Bluegrass Institute, the Prichard Committee and others to paint the picture of what the situation is really like in Jefferson County.
The Knox County Public School District popped up frequently in the press and in this blog after the school system ended a long-standing student transfer agreement with the Corbin Independent School District in January.
That squabble has now degenerated into a lawsuit in Frankfort District Court.
Now, Knox is back in the press, again, but this time a totally different issue is involved.
With virtually no notice, the Knox County Board of Education voted this past week to merge the Lynn Camp High/Middle School with West Knox Elementary School to form one P to 12 school.
In the process, comments captured in the Times Tribune make me wonder if there is an attempt here to maneuver around state laws regarding such things as the state accountability program and the laws regarding the authority of superintendents versus School Based Decision Making Councils (SBDM).
The Knox County superintendent actually discussed how the merger could maneuver around No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and other federal school accountability laws.
The Times-Tribune reports this change triggers a number of significant consequences.
The first impact would be the wiping out of NCLB accountability sanctions that are already in place at Lynn Camp High. Reconfiguration would completely remove the Lynn Camp High from NCLB sanctions, cancelling parental rights to transfer students to a better performing high school and giving the school a “Get out of Jail Free Card” for both state and federal accountability for two more years. Even then, under current rules, if the school continued in academic trouble, instead of being something like an NCLB Tier 3 school in two more years, it would only become a Tier 1 school again, which is the school’s current NCLB status.
The change also eliminates the two separate schools’ individual SBDMs. Instead, one, combined SBDM would be formed. In the 60 days or so required to form the new SBDM, Knox County superintendent Walter T. Hulett would assume the SBDM authority. Hulett already announced that during this 60-day period he will bring in his own instructional team to develop the policies for the new SBDM. In other words, the superintendent thinks he, not the new SBDM can shape and control those policies.
There’s still more.
Hulett already announced that the new principal of the combined school would be West Knox Elementary principal Amy Bays. Apparently, the superintendent believes he, not the new SBDM, will have the authority to name the principal during the 60 day period when the superintendent has control of the merged school.
Finally, it appears that the “merged” school won’t physically merge at all. Both schools are slated to remain in their current buildings. Google Maps indicates those buildings are about two-tenths of a mile apart.
Here are some initial thoughts on this remarkable announcement.
1) Part of the motivation for this dubious merger is to avoid federally required school accountability. The superintendent basically admitted that in a quote captured by the Times Tribune:
“So this is proactive, to avoid anything that the feds may come in and want us to do.”
This intention was reiterated by the superintendent at a follow-on meeting the day after the school board voted to merge the two schools.
He made it clear that the merger would shield the new school from any sanctions that might come as a consequence of the new Race to the Top (RTTT) accountability rules.
Sadly, this motivation isn’t student-centered. It’s accountability avoidance centered and seems likely to mostly just preserve the status quo for adult employees in the school district.
Furthermore, I have to wonder, how will the “feds” react if they read such things as the public comment above from the superintendent?
Could this be construed as an attempt to subvert federal law and Kentucky’s agreements with the federal government to secure RTTT and other funding such as the new School Improvement Grant program?
Given what has already been publicly said, could approval of the merger at this point endanger some or all of Kentucky’s federal grants?
2) There have been several court cases concerning the rights of SBDM versus school district superintendents. The decisions solidly favor SBDM supremacy.
Thus, the discussions in the Times Tribune articles that the superintendent intends to maneuver around these legally mandated divisions of authority are problematic.
As a note: the Bluegrass Institute does have very serious concerns about the functioning of the SBDM system. Among other things, the SBDM system removes too much authority from locally elected school boards and their chosen executive, the superintendent. In consequence, real accountability for the local board, the superintendent and even the schools are all undermined. Still, the current law has been upheld in court, so we need to change the law, first. Circumvention of the law is not acceptable.
Given the public comments already made about the effects of the merger, could Kentucky Board of Education approval of this merger amount to a sanctioning of a violation of SBDM rules?
Can the current Lynn Camp High and/or West Knox Elementary SBDMs appeal this decision? They both would lose their authority under this dubious set of actions. Can they sue?
3) The merged school will have an awkward leadership setup. This seems particularly unwise given the relatively weak performance in both schools, as this table of recent proficiency rates from the Kentucky Core Content Tests summarizes.
While neither school performs terribly well according these recent test results, Lynn Camp High is the major under-performer in this matchup.
But, the Knox plan is for the new principal of the combined school to be the elementary school’s current leader.
Does a person with recent elementary school experience have the right background to turn around a low-performing high school?
Can the West Knox Elementary principal do it from offices at the elementary school?
Will the hiring of several assistant principals be cost-effective? If a lower paid, presumably less experienced assistant winds up doing most of the day-to-day work in the high school, how will that benefit the Lynn Camp students?
4) The Times Tribune opines that there was little public involvement in the development of the new merger plan, indicating that a similar lack of information preceded the controversial cancellation of the Knox-Corbin district transfer agreement earlier this year.
Are there issues with open meetings laws lurking here?
Were private discussions held between board members before the very short public discussion and vote on the merger took place? If not, how did the board reach agreement on this radical and controversial proposal in a process the Times Tribune says only took a few minutes?
5) It appears not all parents are on board. Erma Davis, who protested the merger on the day the board voted for it, said Wednesday:
Ms Davis apparently understands that if the Kentucky Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education approve this merger, you can forget that.
6) Most importantly, how will the maneuvering in Knox County help the kids in Lynn Camp Middle/High School?
If the SBDM in the school is really under-performing, why doesn’t the superintendent use persuasion instead of secret maneuvering to help the school and its SBDM to understand that? If the issue is bad teachers, nothing the superintendent is doing will fix that, and he should not be standing in the way of possible action in that area from the state and federal accountability programs.
Will turn down federal Race to the Top money to keep what they have
The Virginia Pilot reports that the State of Virginia will turn down federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money so it isn’t forced to drop its superior Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL).
Except, there really was no comparison.
They have some smart folks in Virginia’s education system.
Looking on the bright side, this probably increases Kentucky’s chance to win some RTTT money.
Looking on the dark side, we are going to get saddled with standards that won’t hold up to those in top states like Virginia.
Undoing the failure of past irresponsible spending decisions in Washington may feel like starving to the entitlement-addicted crowd. But selling our nation’s soul for a bowl of socialism would be fatal for freedom.
Click here to read the latest Bluegrass Beacon.
The FairTax is a proposed change to federal tax laws that would repeal all federal income taxes, including personal, corporate, capital gains and estate taxes, and replace them with a national retail sales tax. The proposed legislation would apply a sales tax rate of 23 percent on the transaction value of any new purchase or service.
A 23 percent rate may seem high – especially to low-income earners for whom consumption accounts for the largest portion of their take-home wages. However, it’s low-income and middle-income families who will benefit the most, thanks to the “prebate” system, which would eliminate the taxation of household necessities and make a fair tax plan more progressive.
Families would pay taxes on goods and services only if they spend above the poverty level. The amount that families would be able to spend tax free would depend on their size. For example, a family of four would be able to spend up to approximately $24,240 annually tax free.
The rebates would have the greatest effect at low spending levels, where they could lower a household’s effective rate to zero or below; at higher spending levels, the rebate has less impact.
*the effective tax rate is the rate of taxes paid post-prebate to expenditures (i.e. $6,803/$50,000)
The FairTax would see many Kentuckians benefit because of the low-income nature of the state. Kentucky currently has the fourth lowest median income in the U.S. with a median income of $41,458.
This means that many Kentuckians would see a reduction in the amount of taxes that they pay and thereby allowing them to keep more of their paycheck. With more discretionary income available, citizens across the commonwealth will be free to spend, invest and save at their choosing.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) just stepped up to the plate to help Colorado pass an important new law on teacher tenure rules. Part of the provisions link student performance to the right of teachers to continue on tenure.
And, agreement was recently reached in New York to pass a law that allows schools to link student test scores to teacher evaluations.
Linking performance to employee ratings a common-sense approach that has long been the standard in virtually every other area of society except teaching. The AFT is the dominant union in New York City, making it of major importance in statewide politics, as well.
Writes the Washington Post, “With the Colorado bill hanging in the balance, the American Federation of Teachers, led by president Randi Weingarten, broke with the National Education Association to endorse it as ‘for the good of kids.’”
How refreshing! A union finally setting aside some of its self-interests to meet the larger need of its members’ ultimate client, the children. That is the way professional organizations operate.
How sad that Kentucky’s dominant teachers’ union is the National Education Association (NEA). Except for a few local chapters in other states, the NEA so far has failed to see the light of enlightenment that is shining bright at the AFT.
So far, nowhere is that light more dimmed than here in Kentucky. Can you ever recall Kentucky’s teachers’ union putting aside self-interests to do something for the good of kids?
This selfish mode of operation could cost Kentucky dearly in the current Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. Those new laws in Colorado and New York are aimed directly at winning some of that money. Both of those states now can point to not only a dramatic improvement in their education policies, but also to a remarkable shift in local union support that certainly will make their bids much more attractive in Washington.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s teachers’ union just trounced any chance of getting charter schools added to our RTTT reform proposal, in the process providing dramatic evidence that in Kentucky the union remains standing in the way of real education reforms.
Washington just might notice that, too, when RTTT judging starts.