Kentucky Board of Education takes over management of Breathitt school system

bestep@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2012 

The Kentucky Board of Education on Wednesday approved taking over day-to-day management of the Breathitt County school system after finding significant problems in the local administration of the district.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday had recommended state management of the district. The board voted yes on Wednesday.

The most recent time a Kentucky school district was designated for state management was in 1997, in Floyd County, according to a news release from the Kentucky Department of Education.

The decision means Holliday — not the local school board — will run the Breathitt County district, making all decisions on spending, administration, personnel and instruction.

Holliday will likely appoint a state manager to act for him in Breathitt County, the release said.

Also Wednesday, the state school board approved implementing state assistance in the Monticello Independent school district. That last happened in 2000 in Covington.

The designation means the state Education Department will provide management assistance to the Monticello district.

It has been a difficult year for the rural, largely poor Breathitt County school system.

The longtime superintendent, Arch Turner, was indicted in March on charges that he led a conspiracy to buy votes in 2010, that he encouraged others involved to cover up the scheme, and that he lied to the FBI.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in November to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is appealing the fine but not the prison term.

A school board member, George Strong, was among the others charged in the vote-buying conspiracy.

Audits by the state Department of Education and state Auditor Adam Edelen found management and financial problems.

Among other things, Turner cut 10 days from the 2011-12 school year and paid teachers a total of $526,350 for the days they didn't work, Edelen's office found.

That action cost the district $191,000 in state funding.

Turner also gave some employees raises without the local school board's approval, the audit found.

The audit found the local board met for only 10 minutes at times, with little or no discussion of many items.

Under state law, the state can take over a school district if an audit shows a "pattern of a significant lack of effectiveness and efficiency."

The audit on Breathitt County also concluded the local district couldn't fix the problems on its own, according to the Education Department news release.

The way a district is managed has an effect on the quality of instruction students receive, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the state Education Department.

"It's all connected. The management of your district and the financial health of your district has an impact on instruction," Gross said.

State management is limited to three years, unless a follow-up management audit shows a need for continued state control.

While under state management, the Breathitt County district must develop and put in place a plan to improve.

The Monticello district must also come up with a plan for improvements.

If Holliday decides the district is not doing enough to come up with a plan or put it into practice, he will recommend a state takeover of the Monticello district, according to the news release.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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