Bill would hinder local councils that are vital to school improvement

Woodford County High School’s site-based decision-making council met in 2015 to discuss changes in the dress code for the school.
Woodford County High School’s site-based decision-making council met in 2015 to discuss changes in the dress code for the school.

The hard-working principals, teachers and parents who come together to lead our schools have grown accustomed to being asked to produce improved results with limited resources. This year, however, that more-with-less challenge looks to be more daunting than ever.

It’s going to take everyone in the school and district community doing their part to address drastic state budget cuts. Despite years of tight budgets and ambitious calls for improvement, student achievement has improved in Kentucky. Instead of being at the bottom of state-by-state lists, on many measures we are near the middle of the national pack, or better. Even with this progress, we all know enormous need for improvement remains.

The commitment to continuous improvement defines the work of Kentucky’s school-based decision making councils. Across Kentucky, 7,485 teachers, parents and principals served on local SBDM councils last school year, according to the state education department. Empowering principals, teachers and parents to make school-level decisions is a key to reaching and teaching more students. Advocates of charter schools make that point first when they say why that concept holds promise.

Some public school opponents claim the councils somehow stand in the way of improvement. However, there is no evidence to support that claim. Engaging shareholders in decision-making creates a climate that promotes school improvement. In addition to state-level student performance trends, teachers report favorable conditions for effective school leadership, parents report that SBDM has helped improve schools, and superintendents give principals high ratings as school leaders. Also, results show that schools in districts exempt from SBDM councils do not outperform others. See specific data at www.kasc.net/2010/.

Senate Bill 55 would limit SBDM authority by allowing school boards to overturn any council “decision, policy, or action” if it is “inconsistent with local board policy or a hindrance to the efficient operation of the district as a whole.” Such a change would make it harder to address student needs unique to a school and would stifle innovation. Those closest to the students need to be able to invest in the months-long process of researching and making teaching and learning decisions without fear that their work will be thrown out by the school board.

The truth is that the teachers, principals, and parents who step forward to find ways to boost learning are not at odds with central office leaders or school boards or state officials. Successful school districts need community support built on the widest possible understanding of priorities and decisions. SBDM councils get people involved and look at situations from the closest vantage point. Councils are an important part of a Kentucky education system that is working smarter and moving in the right direction. Schools that are closing achievement gaps have SBDM councils. With support from district and state leaders, SBDM councils provide the best chance for reaching and teaching every student.

Ronda Harmon is executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils, a nonprofit group based in Danville. She has served on SBDM councils as both a parent and a teacher representative.