Kentucky Senate votes to shift power to select principals

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate passed a bill Friday to shift the authority for selecting school principals, a move detractors said would weaken the role of school-based decision making councils created by the state's landmark education law.

The measure would transfer that power away from the councils and give it to school superintendents. The councils would serve an advisory role in selecting principals.

After a long debate, the bill cleared the Senate on a 23-13 vote and next goes to the House.

It was one of two education-related bills passed by the Senate on Friday before Kentucky lawmakers headed home after four days of mostly organizational and bill introduction work to start the 2019 session. The legislature resumes its session in early February.

The legislation dealing with the selection of school principals revolved around a debate over the appropriate balance of power in school districts statewide.

The bill's supporters, led by Sen. John Schickel, said superintendents should have authority to choose principals since they shoulder so much of the responsibility for a district's performance. Schickel, R-Union, said his bill would end a "basic problem" in how principals are hired.

Opponents said it would put too much power in the hands of superintendents.

Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington warned it could return some districts to the pre-education reform era when family ties or friendships swayed the selection of some principals.

"This bill is very regressive," said another opponent of the bill, Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington. "It seems like we're just going back and back and back."

Kerr said the councils were the "best feature" of Kentucky's 1990 education reform law and have played an important role in the state's education improvements since then.

The bill also would increase parent representation on the councils, requiring two parent representatives in addition to two teachers and one school administrator.

Schickel said the councils would retain authority over a wide range of policy areas, including choosing curriculum, setting class schedules and selecting after-school activities.

"Virtually every important decision in the school will still be made by the site-based council, in cooperation with the principal," he said.

Thomas warned that other parts of the bill would erode the authority of councils in setting policies.

"It weakens severely the ability of site-based councils to act," Thomas said.

The other education bill that cleared the Senate on Friday would make changes to a tribunal process followed when Kentucky teachers appeal their terminations.

When Kentucky teachers are fired by their local superintendent, they have the choice to appeal their terminations using a tribunal process carried out by the state.

The bill would alter the makeup of the three-member tribunal panels, which now include a teacher, an administrator and a layperson. Under the bill, the layperson would be replaced by an attorney already trained to be a hearing officer.

The measure passed the Senate on a 23-13 vote and goes to the House.

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The principal selection legislation is Senate Bill 3. The tribunal legislation is SB8.