School districts in northern Kentucky are banding together in their lobbying efforts with the idea that one collective voice can be heard louder than a multitude of different messages.
“I think anytime, whether it’s for academics or whether it’s around pensions or financial issues, we need to have one voice,” Boone County Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe said. “We need to collectively come together and pool our resources and speak with one voice because we may have some differences, but collectively we have to have that voice together.”
The 17 districts served by the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services have unique needs, but they also have common ground and have placed an emphasis on getting that message out.
“The 17 districts all have a viewpoint of these are our kids, all 60,000 that are in our public schools, and I think we make decisions based on that,” Bellevue Superintendent Robb Smith said.
From left, Dayton Ind. Superintendent Jay Brewer, NKCES Executive Director Amy Razor,
Bellevue Ind. Superintendent Robb Smith and Covington Ind. Superintendent Alvin Garrison
talk after the co-op’s September meeting.
By the numbers
The superintendents in northern Kentucky have “always worked together so well” that extending that relationship to their lobbying strategy was just an extension of what they’ve always done, said Erlanger-Elsmere Independent Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burkhardt.
At the request of the co-op members, co-op Executive Director Amy Razor put together a PowerPoint presentation called NKCES by the Numbers, which contains demographic information about the region’s school districts.
The data collected compares the region with the state in several categories, including graduation rate, number of students receiving gifted or special education services, and number of students living in poverty.
The data “individually might be powerful but it’s even more powerful when you can see it all together,” Razor said. “I think we can’t afford not to speak on behalf of our students that we want all students in northern Kentucky to have opportunity and choice, to be successful, but we need the appropriate funding.”
“If we just talk about individual districts, then we’re splitting up,” Burkhardt said. “But if we say this is who we are as a region together, it makes a big difference. Especially in northern Kentucky where we have so many districts. But if every region would do that, I think it would be powerful.”
Burkhardt said the region’s goal is to educate legislators and the public about what really goes on in school districts.
“We’re just trying to get the message out there, meet with people and talk with people about how it impacts our students and how we work together to meet their needs,” she said.
Razor said the region is trying to build synergy with the stronger together message.
“I think the reaction we’re getting is, I think it’s easier to articulate than 17 different messages and easier for people to understand,” she said. “It’s a more coherent message than someone trying to disseminate 17 different messages.”
Dayton Independent Superintendent Jay Brewer said some of the biggest issues in the region are the implementation of charter schools and how that will impact student learning, the implementation of the new assessment system, and pension reform.
“The upcoming pension situation obviously is top on everyone’s mind and not just to make sure we take care of our teachers, but to make sure we take care of the teaching profession and that’s the future generations to come who are going to be key in educating all kids moving forward,” Brewer said.
Smith, the current NKCES president, wrote an open letter to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, expressing the message of the region on pension reform.
“I think the message is that we all signed a contract that kind of dictated our life plan. A lot of us are here in the last stages of a career and we just want them to hold up that promise,” he said. “We realize we have to give somewhere, but bring us to the table and let us talk about those things and let’s work together on a solution.”
The region’s superintendents met with State Rep. John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville in June. Carney is the co-chair of the House Education Committee.
“It was great for Bam to come up and listen and really be willing to hear the needs of our region,” Brewer said. “I think he learned some things about what’s going on in northern Kentucky, and really in particular with the regional charter academies being designated up here. That was kind of added in there at the last minute … I’m not sure if everybody really thoroughly understood the dynamics of that for our region.”
The northern Kentucky region has an above-average transient rate among its students, and the ultimate goal of the region’s lobbying efforts is to give all of the students the opportunities needed to be successful.
“If we’re going to create the promise of real opportunity for our young people, we have to work together and we have to share this message to whoever will listen,” Razor said. “We have some critical decisions that are being made on behalf of our school systems that we feel pretty passionate about that we needed to be heard.”