Senate approves school principal hiring reform bill
FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill today that would empower school district superintendents to hire principals. That hiring decision has been the responsibility of school-based decision-making councils since passage of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, commonly known as KERA.
The proposed legislation, known as Senate Bill 3, would give final decision over principal selection to the superintendent after consultation with the council, said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. Schickel, who sponsored the measure, added that no other council powers would be removed, and the councils would not become just advisory bodies.
Schickel said another provision of the bill would change the makeup of the councils. Instead of the minimum of three teachers and two parents on the councils, there would be two teachers and two parents. He said that would enhance the parent voice on councils.
In response that SB 3 would limit parental involvement, Schickel said the only reason the measure doesn’t call for more parents is that many rural school districts have difficulty finding just two parents to be on the councils.
Schickel emphasized that councils would continue to set all the policies they do now, and the principal would be bound to implement them, just as they are now.
In voting against the bill, Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said SB 3 would eliminate one of the most innovative aspects of KERA. Thomas, a former PTA president, said the current structure and responsibilities of the councils gives parents and neighborhoods the ability to have control over their schools.
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, spoke in support of SB 3. McDaniel, who has served on a council, said preventing superintendents from hiring principals is holding Kentucky back. He said SB 3 would improve accountability to the entire community, through its elected school board that holds the superintendent accountable.
“We sit here and expect results,” McDaniel said of state-mandated school performance requirements. “Yet, in many cases, we handcuff them with unrealistic personnel expectations that leave them responsible for performance but with the inability to handle those who are not delivering that performance.”
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, said that as an educator who has taught at every level from kindergarten to college, she couldn’t support SB 3.
“This is wrong,” Kerr said. “This is not an opportunity where we will make things better. If you go back to the days of yore, anybody that was running for public office … they came first to the superintendents of that county because they knew that one person … was where the power lay. It was with the superintendents.”
She said the bill would place too much power back in the hands of rural superintendents, who essentially act as CEOs of the biggest and best-paying employers in their counties.
Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, former chair of the Education Committee, said SB 3 has been thoroughly vetted. It had been discussed in at least two prior legislative panels in recent years, including one last month in Frankfort.
“School-based decision-making councils were originally established to be over curriculum and those things that affect instruction and that has not changed, and I think that is very important,” said Wilson, who voted for the measure. “Having an equal voice as a parent is also equally important.”
After a vigorous debate, SB 3 passed by a 23-13 vote. The measure now goes the state House of Representatives for consideration.