Kentucky Capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Legislation that would alter the membership of school-based decision-making councils and strip their authority to hire principals cleared the Senate Education Committee on an 8-4 vote Thursday.

Senate Bill 3, if passed, would reduce the number of teachers serving on SBDMs from three members to two and transfer the councils’ authority to hire principals to school superintendents.

Sens. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington; Gerald Neal, D-Louisville; Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington; and Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, voted against the bill in committee.

Supporters say the measure would allow superintendents to dictate the direction of their school districts and put parents on equal footing with teachers on school councils, likely making such positions more appealing to parents.

“Our children in our school system (are) one of our primary responsibilities, constitutional responsibilities, moral responsibilities,” said Sen. John Schickel, a Union Republican and sponsor of SB 3.

But opponents argue that educators should have a greater presence on SBDMs since they have to carry out school policy and that taking away school councils’ authority to hire principals would take away critical input from stakeholders at schools. Another concern raised during Thursday’s committee meeting is that teachers would no longer have any protection against involuntary transfers during their SBDM service since SB 3 would remove that provision from state law.

“School councils have been under attack since the day they passed,” said Ronda Harmon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils. SBDMs were part of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act.

The legislation has divided some education groups, with the Kentucky School Boards Association and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents backing SB 3 and the Kentucky Education Association opposing it.

KEA President Stephanie Winkler said simply having superintendents consult with SBDMs before hiring a principal, as laid out in SB 3, would leave much open to interpretation. The legislation leaves the hiring process entirely up to the school superintendent.

“It would create inconsistency in hiring practices and make it especially difficult for potential principal candidates to try and have an equal opportunity for employment,” she said in her testimony against SB 3.

But Eric Kennedy, government relations director for KSBA, said allowing superintendents to hire school principals would develop a sense of accountability in schools since superintendents serve their local boards of education, the members of which are elected by the public.

“We need to prevent the sort of shifting of accountability that can take place and establish it ultimately with the school board that is elected by the entire local community,” he said.

He also said that reducing the number of teachers on SBDMs would still leave educators in a voting majority – principals chair school councils – while potentially encouraging parents to join since they would be on equal footing with teachers.

"Getting parents interested in running for SBDM seats is particularly troublesome in rural areas, he said.

Kennedy also said SB 3 shouldn’t be seen as a measure “gutting” the authority of SBDMs, noting that several other school policies would be decided by school councils.

“The people closest to the students, now an even number of parents and teachers of that school, will have the exact same level of authority to set school policy as they do today,” he said.

SB 3 is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate Friday.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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