Kentucky School Advocate
Settlements involving KSBA-led coalitions of schools would result in reductions in proposed utility rate increases, and provide funding to continue supporting school energy-efficiency efforts.
One proposed agreement is between Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities and interveners that include a group of schools, businesses, Attorney General Jack Conway and others. It would roll back or eliminate rate hikes sought by the two utilities.
“Our partnership offered significant expert testimony about how the original rate proposals would have impacted Kentucky schools. We felt the evidence was strong that increasing operating costs for schools to that level would have forced budget cuts that didn’t support teaching and learning,” said Ron Willhite, director of KSBA’s School Energy Managers Project (SEMP).
Under the proposed LG & E/KU agreement, KU would reduce its rate increase by nearly 20 percent, and LG & E would reduce its requested natural gas increase by 50 percent. It also would drop a rate increase that would have cost six school districts about $500,000 a year. The companies agreed to a previous commitment of $500,000 to support 26 school energy managers serving 58 districts, and would ask the state Public Service Commission to approve an additional $725,000 annually for energy manager support for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. The settlement also calls for the utilities to earmark $1 million to finance one-time grants for school energy efficiency projects, awarded through KSBA/SEMP.
Similarly, SEMP-led districts participated with other groups in intervening in a proposed Kentucky Power Company rate increase, producing a proposed settlement that would reduce the company’s original $70 million rate hike by 35 percent. The attorney general’s office continues to push for an even greater rate reduction. The 23 eastern Kentucky school districts affected would have faced a rate hike of more than 15 percent, but the settlement proposal would see the increase cut to 5 percent. The annualized savings also would include a pilot rate for schools, and Kentucky Power would provide $200,000 a year to support school energy managers in those districts for two years.
Willhite said the proposed settlements show the importance of the local school board support for the interventions. Most affected districts contributed financially to those efforts.
Settlements in both cases must still be approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission.
Temporary innovation slowdown
No new school districts will be added to the list of Districts of Innovation for 2015-16. Only one district applied for that designation and did not score proficient on the rubric, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Four school systems were named Districts of Innovation in 2013-14, the program’s first year, and three were added in 2014-15.
David Cook, director of KDE’s Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement, said in an email that he believes the slowdown “can be attributed to the fact that districts have had quite a bit on their plates with PGES implementation, program reviews and new science standards. This probably caused several districts to hold off.”
With much of that implementation completed, Cook said he expects an uptick in applications for 2016-17. “We have already either fielded questions or met with multiple districts that plan to apply during this upcoming cycle,” he said.
Cook said he believes districts also may use the District of Innovation process to participate in the new Kentucky Rising program, a statewide cradle to career strategic plan. School districts could seek to implement some of the relevant strategies devised in the plan.
Districts of Innovation are exempt from some administrative regulations, state law and board policy with the aim of redesigning student learning to improve achievement and college and career readiness. The 2016-17 round of District of Innovation applications will be completed in October and will be presented to the Kentucky Board of Education for action in February 2016.
Current Districts of Innovation are:
• Danville Independent
• Eminence Independent
• Owensboro Independent
• Jefferson County
• Owsley County
• Taylor County
• Trigg County