Despite ongoing protests by Jefferson County Public School teachers at the Capitol, one of the bills educators have opposed passed both chambers as of Tuesday. Senate Bill 250 is now headed to the governor’s desk.
Louisville Senator Julie Raque Adams sponsored the bill that would expand several of the JCPS superintendent’s powers. She says the intent of the bill is to give JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio more flexibility to make reforms — to continue to avoid the threat of a state takeover.
The bill would allow the superintendent to approve larger school purchases and to have more flexibility in senior staffing. A more controversial provision would give the superintendent final say in hiring principals. That power is currently held largely by a Site-Based Decision Making Council, or SBDM, composed of teachers and parents.
“The fact that we’re going to hold the principal accountable for our results, and that he has no flexibility in that system, I think is unrealistic,” Raque Adams said.
Principal selection in Kentucky is voted on by a local committee of teachers and parents, formed by a SBDM. The superintendent chairs that committee but cannot override the committee’s decision. The system has been in place since 1990, when the Kentucky Education Reform Act was enacted.
One provision in Senate Bill 250 would change that process.
“The only difference is that the superintendent has the the ultimate authority on hiring that principal,” said Raque Adams.
That is the part opposed by some teachers and educator advocacy groups — including the Kentucky Association of School Councils. Kelland Garland sits on the board of that association and is a principal at Bullitt County Public Schools.
Garland says it was crucial to have parents and teachers involved when he was hired.
“They’re invested because it’s their school, and it’s not seen as something from the top down,” Garland said.
Garland said one school council decided not to hire him at another school, despite the superintendent’s recommendation … and he was thankful.
“I went into an interview, and within five minutes, I knew that was not the school for me,” Garland said.
An original version of the bill eliminated the involvement of school councils in principal hiring, but after receiving feedback, Raque Adams wrote SBDM councils back into the picture in an advisory role.
Raque Adams and Pollio have stated that they think school councils play an important role, but that there are some circumstances in which a superintendent should be able to make the final decision.
Still, advocates for the councils say if they don’t have a deciding vote to choose principals, parents and teachers won’t stay involved — or that superintendents could choose a candidate who isn’t the best person for that school.
Right now, the SBDM councils at some of the lowest-performing public schools — including The Academy at Shawnee in Jefferson County — have already lost the power to pick principals.
“Those that understand the climate and the culture of the school should be picking the principal,” said Shawnee parent and Parent Teacher Association president Karin Bennett.
Bennett says the Academy at Shawnee has gone through numerous principals — all picked by superintendents — during the past decade.
“That’s a lot of turnover, a lot of disruption. Every time we get another principal we get a lot of teachers that leave,” Bennett said.
Bennett says that lack of stability affected her daughter, who saw some of her favorite teachers leave because of conflicts with principals.
Bennett added something many other educators have also said about this bill — that they trust current Superintendent Marty Pollio, but they wonder what will happen if future superintendents hold this power.
“The next superintendent, are they going to be as pro-SBDM boards as this superintendent is? It will make a big difference if this law is changed,” Bennett said.
On Tuesday, Sen. Julie Raque Adams asked House Representative Jerry Miller to file an amendment to the bill to place a sunset limit on the principal selection provision — so that it would expire after five years. However, Raque Adams said she was “surprised that the amendment was not called.”
Miller said he offered the amendment “as an olive branch” to Democrats to garner more support for the bill. Miller said he told the House Democratic Whip that Republicans could pass Senate Bill 250 with or without the amendment. Ultimately House leaders did not call the amendment because it did not receive bipartisan support.
The bill now goes to Governor Bevin for final consideration.
This story has been updated.