State education board to seek authority to remove school officials in low-performing districts

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Department of Education plans to seek several measures in the upcoming legislative session to boost low-achieving schools, including possibly removing superintendents or school board members in those school districts.

Kentucky law already allows the state education commissioner to seek the removal of local school officials for such things as misconduct, incompetency or wilful neglect of duty. Now, the education department proposes to add chronic low student academic performance to the list of causes for removal.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved the concept Thursday as a part of its overall legislative agenda for the 2010 General Assembly session beginning in January. Education department officials contended that authority to remove local education leaders would provide more accountability for poor performance, and said the idea is in line with federal school-improvement initiatives like the Race to The Top grant program.

The Kentucky board included similar removal language in its legislative agenda last year, and that proposal went nowhere in the General Assembly, said spokesmen for the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

Brad Hughes, school boards association spokesman, said the idea that removing school board members might improve math scores or the mastery of science concepts is "baffling."

Wilson Sears, executive director of the superintendents' organization, insisted that Kentucky school superintendents generally are not opposed to being held accountable for student achievement. But he noted that under current rules superintendents cannot hire school principals or easily remove them if they do a bad job.

"This is where superintendents have a little issue, " said Sear, "When you say that we don't have the authority the hire the building-level instructional leader, but we can be removed when that instructional leader doesn't perform."

The removal proposal also drew some opposition from within the Kentucky School Board during its meeting Thursday.

Dorie Combs, a state board member from Richmond, said she supported the idea of providing accountability, but argued that the removal proposal would not help to accomplish that. Combs then moved to have the removal language dropped from the board's legislative agenda.

Other board members objected, however, with board chairman Joe Brothers arguing that accountability is part of being a leader and that the future of Kentucky schools is the state board's responsibility.

Combs' motion died on a voice vote.

Also on the board's 2010 legislative agenda is a proposal to expand Kentucky's pre-school program to include children in families with incomes of up to 200 percent of federal poverty level. Now, participation is limited to families with incomes of 150 percent of poverty or less (about $33,000 for a family of four).

Expanding the program would allow about 16,000 more children to be served and cost about $73 million a year, according to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, which has endorsed the idea.

The state board also included on its legislative list a proposal to raise Kentucky's compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 by the 2011-2012 school year. A similar proposal failed in the General Assembly last year.