Bills ap­proved by state Se­nate would give more power to school chiefs

Lexington Herald-Leader - - Front Page - BY VALARIE HONEYCUTT SPEARS AND JACK BRAMMER vhon­ey­[email protected]­ jbram­[email protected]­

Ken­tucky school su­per­in­ten­dents would get more power in teacher fir­ings and prin­ci­pal hir­ings un­der bills ap­proved Fri­day by the state Se­nate.

Se­nate Bill 8, spon­sored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, deals with hear­ings for teacher fir­ings. SB 3, spon­sored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, makes changes to Ken­tucky school de­ci­sion coun­cils. and strips them of the au­thor­ity to hire prin­ci­pals.

The Se­nate ap­proved both bills with votes of 23-13 and sent them to the House for its con­sid­er­a­tion.

SB 8 pri­mar­ily lim­its de­ci­sions of ap­pointed tri­bunals on teacher fir­ings to up­hold or over­turn the de­ci­sion of the su­per­in­ten­dent.

State Sen. Reg­gie Thomas, D-Lex­ing­ton, who voted against the bill, said in a floor speech that the leg­is­la­tion gave su­per­in­ten­dents too much power and was an ex­am­ple of a “tweak gone wrong.”

“We are get­ting our sys­tem way out of bal­ance, giv­ing su­per­in­ten­dents too much power” and “run­ning the risk of go­ing back­wards as a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

West said if a teacher now is charged with some­thing wor­thy of ter­mi­na­tion, the Ken­tucky Com­mis­sioner of Ed­u­ca­tion ap­points a three-mem­ber tri­bunal con­sist­ing of a teacher, an ad­min­is­tra­tor and a lay per­son. SB 8 re­moves the lay per­son and re­places it with an at­tor­ney who serves as a hear­ing of­fi­cer and who re­ceives in-depth train­ing on teacher em­ploy­ment law and how to con­duct a due process hear­ing, he said.

West told the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Thurs­day that the pro­posed tri­bunal changes “helps su­per­in­ten­dents and those in charge of mak­ing our schools bet­ter, it gives them a chance to take care of dis­ci­plinary prob­lems in a bet­ter fash­ion.”

Su­per­in­ten­dents, busi­ness lead­ers and Ken­tucky Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Wayne Lewis were among those who sup­ported the bill at the com­mit­tee meet­ing Thurs­day say­ing the leg­is­la­tion stream­lines the process and pro­tects the rights of teach­ers and stu­dents.

The bill helps to en­sure that in the small num­ber of cases that if a teacher needs to be re­moved, there is a fair process in place, said Lewis.

“It helps us to el­e­vate the pro­fes­sion,” Lewis said of the changes in the bill. “Keep­ing those peo­ple in in­stances where it is very clear that they should no longer be in class­rooms, should no longer be prac­tic­ing ... does noth­ing but dam­age the pro­fes­sion that we’ve all agreed we need to do much more to el­e­vate.”

Un­der the bill, West said, the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion de­signs and con­ducts the train­ing and the Ken­tucky Board of Ed­u­ca­tion adopts reg­u­la­tions that im­ple­ment due process pro­vi­sions.

There is a strict time ta­ble: the tri­bunal must act on the case within five days, the hear­ing of­fi­cer has to pro­vide a rec­om­mended or­der within 15 days, the par­ties have 15 days to file ex­cep­tions to the or­der, the hear­ing of­fi­cer must then ren­der a de­ci­sion within 10 days.

Mary Ru­ble, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ken­tucky Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, told the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee Thurs­day that her group had con­cerns that teach­ers who did not de­serve to be fired would lose their jobs.

Un­der Se­nate Bill 3, the school coun­cil bill, the su­per­in­ten­dent would have the fi­nal de­ci­sion on se­lect­ing the prin­ci­pal of a school. Cur­rently, the school coun­cil makes that de­ci­sion. The bill would still al­low the school coun­cil to be con­sulted on the de­ci­sion.

Sev­eral su­per­in­ten­dents in Ken­tucky have pre­vi­ously said they did not have enough voice in hir­ing prin­ci­pals but were held ac­count­able when aca­demic achieve­ment at a school de­clines.

Eric Kennedy of the Ken­tucky School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion said his mem­bers be­lieve that giv­ing su­per­in­ten­dents more say “is a very im­por­tant change in the ul­ti­mate ac­count­abil­ity to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

The bill would also give teach­ers and par­ents an even num­ber on the school coun­cil, re­duc­ing the num­ber of teach­ers from three to two.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-La­tio­nia, said the bill “goes to the heart, in many ways, with build­ing Ken­tucky’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

But Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lex­ing­ton, voted against the bill, say­ing the bill is “very re­gres­sive.” She said Fayette County has 42,100 stu­dents in 59 school build­ings and that the school coun­cils in each are vi­tal to hir­ing prin­ci­pals.

KEA Pres­i­dent Stephanie Win­kler told the Se­nate panel Thurs­day that her or­ga­ni­za­tion was not con­sulted on the school coun­cil bill and that teach­ers should re­main in the ma­jor­ity on school coun­cils. Win­kler also had strong reser­va­tions about giv­ing su­per­in­ten­dents the fi­nal say in hir­ing prin­ci­pals.

“Be­fore 1990, hir­ing pro­cesses in schools were full of po­lit­i­cal nepo­tism and bias,” Win­kler said. The Ken­tucky Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Act that cre­ated school coun­cils, cre­ated a more fair process, she said. Tak­ing the voice of school coun­cils away could take Ken­tucky back to pre-KERA days, she said.

Lan­guage in the bill about “con­sult­ing” with school coun­cils could be sub­ject to broad in­ter­pre­ta­tion, said Win­kler, and cre­ate in­con­sis­tency in hir­ing prac­tices.

John Schickel

Regi­nald Thomas

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