By Madelynn Coldiron
In his Feb. 1 remarks during KSBA’s annual conference, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday asked the state’s school board members and superintendents for support not only in getting more state funding for education, but for several other major ongoing initiatives.
But the secondary takeaway from his speech likely was: no new requirements.
In contrast to last year, when Holliday unexpectedly announced new training requirements for board members in school finance, superintendent evaluations and ethics, there were no such surprises in this year’s speech.
Holliday recalled that his appearance last year came following state audits of several school districts that uncovered mismanaged public funds.
He noted that since then, boards had followed new standards for accountability and transparency in evaluating their superintendents, and commended them for their efforts “in dealing with the negative publicity that a few bad actors cost us.”
“Throughout the past six to eight months, I read (KSBA’s eNews) daily updates where the school board has actually reviewed academic performance, fiscal performance and working conditions for their teachers,” Holliday said. “As of Jan. 6, 2014, all 173 districts had posted online the things that I asked you to do last year. So I want to applaud you personally for the courage to stand up and say, ‘We’re going to be fiscally accountable; we’re going to be ethically accountable; and we’re going to make sure we have a fair and equitable system of evaluating our superintendents.”
In addition to encouraging board teams to support a new superintendent evaluation system, Holliday asked them to champion the other components of the state’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers and principals. And he asked them to support the focus on kindergarten readiness, pointing to the recently released somber figures in the kindergarten readiness rates of the state’s school districts.
Holliday also asked board members to focus on K-3 program reviews, which are being piloted this year, noting the importance of those grades in helping those students who enter kindergarten ill-prepared.
The commissioner also pointed to a host of positives, with a pat on the back for local boards:
• An increase in the percentage of high school graduates who are college and career ready from 34 percent to 54 percent last year, with the class of 2015 being on target to reach the statewide goal of 67 percent.
• The raising of the dropout age to 18 by 2015, thanks to combined actions of the General Assembly and individual school boards. While 140 districts have adopted the dropout age policy, Holliday challenged the remaining districts to do the same by the next school year.
• The ranking of Kentucky among the top states for high school graduation, with an 86 percent graduation rate for the class of 2013.
Not surprisingly, Holliday asked the crowd to continue pushing for more money for education. He said the General Assembly has not honored its commitment made in 1990’s education reform and in its more recent incarnation in 2009, Senate Bill 1, adding, “it’s time for a change.”
He cited the growing inequity in resources among school districts created by the lagging state funding. The funding gap between the highest expenditure district and lowest expenditure district is currently more than $11,000 per student, Holliday said.
In the weeks leading up to this legislative session, boards across the state approved resolutions asking the General Assembly and the governor to restore education funding – which the governor addressed in his budget, which is now before the legislature.
Lawmakers say they “got the message” from the resolutions, Holliday said, “but they won’t get the message until the budget bill is signed by the governor.”