Bowling Green Daily News, Dec. 6, 2016
School district leaders split on bill
that would empower superintendents
by Aaron Mudd
School district superintendents would have more decision-making powers in a proposed law going before Kentucky's General Assembly next year, but local school district leaders are divided on what it could mean for schools and students.
State Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, has introduced legislation, which would shift some decision-making powers from school councils to superintendents.
"It gives accountability back to the superintendents and the school board," Schickel said when asked about his goal for the bill.
For Schickel, school-based decision making councils aren't positioned to be as accountable to taxpayers as the school boards and the superintendents hired by them. A superintendent may be expected to boost test scores, Schickel said, and yet they don't control the schools' curriculum.
"The superintendents are held accountable to the taxpayers, but we don’t give the superintendents the tools that they need," he said. "So we have a dysfunctional system that’s not accountable to the public."
Under the proposed law, superintendents could set school policy, determine the parameters of a school's funding, decide which textbooks and materials are available, decide on student service programs provided at the school and fill principal vacancies. It also requires superintendents to consult with principals and school councils and requires principals to develop wellness policies in their schools.
Site-based decision making councils are school councils made of parents and teachers and a school administrator. When the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990, the councils were a key part of the education reform law. The Kentucky Department of Education describes the councils as a way to "promote shared leadership among those who are close to the students," according to its website.
Schickel's bill would take that law in a different direction, a prospect that has two local superintendents split.
Superintendent Rob Clayton of Warren County Public Schools echoed Schickel's contention that superintendents need more authority. He described the bill as a way to "ensure that the superintendent can have the appropriate impact to ensure the students’ success. ...
"It allows the district and school leaders who are most accountable for student learning the ability to make school level management decisions," Clayton said.
Clayton said the bill could be of help in giving superintendents the authority to step in when schools are in trouble. He hasn't had to intervene in troubled schools because his school district is continuing to make strides, he said.
Overall though, his experiences working with site-based decision making councils have been positive. He said the councils have brought parents into the district's schools and helped create school ownership.
"I would hope that if a change were made in the law, that it would not minimize parent involvement and parent ownership within our schools," he said.
Superintendent Gary Fields of the Bowling Green Independent School district also appreciates working with school councils. He participated in selecting a new principal for Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School last summer with the school's council.
"I thought the process was pretty effective and felt like I had the appropriate amount of input in the hiring process," he said. "I think it’s one that I think we should probably stick with."
The peril of leaving the decision up to one superintendent is that he or she could make a bad decision that neglects the voices of parents and teachers, which help legitimize a new principal and work with them.
"I think that consensus building is important," Fields said of the principal hiring process.
Within his school district, Fields said there are big picture goals for success and schools are free to figure out how to reach them. That's something that could be lost under the legislation, which gives superintendents power to make choices on curriculum, use of instructional and non-instructional staff time, classroom management techniques and how the school day and week is spent.