Kentucky schools are gearing up for a new state law that will require parents who are elected to site-based councils to undergo criminal background checks.
The law grew out of an incident in Simpson County in which a candidate for a seat on a site-based council was found to be a registered sex offender, said state Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, who sponsored the proposal in the 2009 Kentucky General Assembly.
"If you run for school board, you have to be a registered voter," Givens noted. "But if you run for a site-based decision-making council, you don't have to be a registered voter, you simply have to be a parent. So, there really was no screening process."
Under the law, parents elected to site-based councils will have to submit to state and national criminal background checks, supported by fingerprints, to be conducted by the Kentucky State Police and the FBI.
A parent could start serving before his or her background check is completed.
The parent will be removed from the council if the background check determines that the parent has a sex-crime record, has committed a criminal offense against a minor, or is a violent offender as defined by state law.
The law does not apply to teachers serving on site-based councils, since they already undergo background checks.
The Fayette County Public Schools and other districts are in the process of updating their policies to conform with the new statute.
"One of the questions is who is going to pay for doing the background checks," Fayette Superintendent Stu Silberman said. "It's pretty much an unfunded mandate, but I think it's a good thing to help protect our kids.
"My recommendation will be that our district pick up that cost."
A district's total cost in any given year would depend on the number of schools it has and the number of new parents joining the councils. Each background check is expected to cost $24.
Silberman says Fayette County expects its total cost to be about $3,600 per year.
"People who are serving on councils are volunteers, and we appreciate their services," Silberman said. "So we don't think that we should pass that cost on to them."
Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said it should be simple for school districts to comply with the new law, since they already run background checks on employees.