During the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting this past week, the members voted in a split decision to ask for legislation that allows the Kentucky Commissioner of Education to remove school superintendents in districts where students have chronically low academic performance (See Item: “Divided discussion at KBOE…”).
It seems like a sensible idea – until you consider the history of how KERA stripped every Kentucky superintendent’s authority to influence what happens in individual schools.
Under KERA, the power to control things like curriculum and the final school level budget was taken away from local boards of education and their executive officer, the superintendent. KERA gave all that power to each school’s site based decision making council (SBDM). Today, superintendents normally have no real say about a school’s curriculum or almost any other important area, including the final selection of the school’s principal. The superintendent can make suggestions, but the site base council makes the decisions.
In fact, Kentucky’s school superintendents are so removed from authority to run schools that about a year or so ago, when the Kentucky Board of Education debated taking the site base council authority from several very low performing schools in Covington and Louisville, the board voted to give that authority to those superintendents rather than to a specially trained Highly Skilled Educator. The argument at the time was the superintendents over those schools could not be considered part of the problem because they had no authority to act in these chronically low performing schools.
During those discussions about the schools in Louisville and Covington, the idea that the superintendent did have responsibility because of the ability to remove the school’s leader was never discussed. The board’s decision to remove site base authority and grant it to the superintendents in those two school districts was justified by the assertion that the superintendents could not be held responsible.
Flash forward to the present. The board’s new legislative request takes direct aim at superintendents and local boards of education with low performing students. But, how can this really help much, unless the stipulation is added that the superintendent has to have site base control for six years, first? That added stipulation was not discussed in the relevant Staff Note for the Board’s meeting nor in discussions during the meeting, which I attended (Find the staff note proposal under the item “BLUE RIBBON PANEL ON INTERVENTIONS IN LOW-PERFORMING SCHOOLS RECOMMENDATIONS”).
There are more problems with the proposal. Local boards of education are elected, while the Kentucky Commissioner of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education are all just appointees. How much authority should an appointee have to override the will of the people? Some of this authority has existed in the relevant sections of statute (KRS 156.132) for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it is the right way to operate. Also, since KERA completely severed all responsibility of the local school boards for anything that happens in a school, how can removing local board members due to low academic performance do anything effective to improve education for kids? Local board members have even less power over academic performance than the superintendents do.
So, here are some questions.
Can someone tell me where a superintendent’s power to remove a principal is defined in the law? How about the laws regarding a local board’s authority to remove the superintendent? Is low academic performance mentioned as a cause of action for either case?
Also, if a principal is removed, what is the process to select a new principal? Does the school site base council get to do this, or in this unusual circumstance does the superintendent select the replacement (which is normally forbidden by the Kentucky Revised Statutes, as emphasized by court decisions).
Certainly, this new legislative request conflicts with the actions the board took in Louisville and Covington to remove site base council authority and place it in the hands of superintendents.
I’ll be digging on this one, because it looks like the proposed legislation makes no sense and is even inconsistent with actions the Kentucky Board of Education has taken in the past. Right now, this is shaping up as just another example of how the people who have the real authority for education have been effectively shielded from any true accountability while others are held as scapegoats. Before a single local board member gets fired, there better be some evidence that educators in the responsible school faced some effective accountability, first.