Herald-Leader Editorial

Breathitt's education challenge: Culture change 101

August 28, 2014 

The state school board did the right thing this week by retaining control of the Breathitt County school district.

This poor mountain county has a deep tradition of running the public schools for the benefit of a relatively few adults, at a steep price to its youth.

In recent years, the schools have been failing students and taxpayers by almost any measure.

Twenty months of state control — imposed only after former Superintendent Arch Turner went to federal prison for vote buying — was not enough to change the pernicious culture.

Electing new members to the local school board also has failed to achieve a reboot that would assure youngsters a shot at a decent education and secure futures.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and his staff amply documented the need for continued state intervention, and the state board gave due deliberation to all the evidence before deciding to extend the state takeover.

State board chairman Roger Marcum, the former Marion County schools superintendent, summed up the situation when he said the Breathitt school board members want local control but don't know what to do with it.

The challenge facing not just the five school board members, but also Breathitt County as a whole, is to develop the capacity, the knowledge and values to run a school system efficiently and in the best interest of the students.

If Breathitt County's many good people and dedicated educators can make that happen, the reward will be far richer than just regaining control of the school district.

The accident of being born in a poor place should deny no Kentuckian an education that is both adequate to prosper in the modern economy and equal to what's available to students in more affluent places.

That's not just our opinion or a high-sounding platitude. As the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed in 1989, it's a right guaranteed by our state constitution.

The state Department of Education should stay in Breathitt County as long as it takes to guarantee youngsters growing up there the education that is their right.

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