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Mayor's Letter About Low-Performing Schools Prompts Superintendents to Show Up at Council

A letter from Alexandria Mayor Bill Rachford to superintendents of all seven school districts in Campbell County and to the mayors and school board members in each community, prompted a public response from education leaders at Thursday's city council meeting.

In the letter, first reported by The River City News last week, Rachford wrote, “I urge everyone in a leadership capacity in these school systems and cities or who is a tax paying resident of these jurisdictions to seek a satisfactory solution to this problem. I suggest we form a county-wide task force to identify best practices to develop solutions that best serve our children. Don’t we owe them a good education? One of the major factors in a person’s long term success in life is their quality of education. I believe this is an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of education for many of our county’s children so I ask that everyone put aside city egos for the benefit of our children. After all, our children are our future!!!”

Rachford expressed concern about the low-performing districts in Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Silver Grove, and Southgate. 

Southgate Superintendent Jim Palm and Newport Superintendent Kelly Middletown attended Thursday's meeting, taking umbrage with Rachford's characterization that the schools are "a dismal failure".

The mayor emphasized that the letter was his own opinion and not necessarily that of the city council.

Palm said that the research done for an article that appeared in the Campbell County Recorder was incomplete and that test score rankings is not how schools are graded on their report cards. He said that based on what is called an Annual Measurable Objective score, Southgate exceeds the standards of the state despite that 78 percent of the students in the district enter school behind due mainly to their poor economic backgrounds, he said. Palm also said that the teachers in the school district are the lowest paid in the state and that the Board of Education members in Southgate give their salary back to the school.  

Middleton echoed much of Palm’s sentiments calling the language used in the letter, “pretty strong”. He too pointed out how students from his districts come from poor backgrounds with 88 percent of the children receiving their lunches for free.

After the two superintendents, along with Julie Webb Fisher who is a member of the Bellevue Board of Education, had their say, Mayor Rachford said that he didn’t mean to imply that the teachers in the districts were lousy and that he wanted to organize a group of educators of various levels and backgrounds to further discuss the matter.

“I sincerely appreciate you all coming out here to share your comments,” Rachford said. “What I want to do is get together a group of board members, principals, superintendents and talk about this subject. It sounds like there is a lot of good things going on in our schools, but from a casual observer like myself, I see an article in the paper, and it doesn’t look so good. I’m just thinking that there has to be a way to do better. I didn’t mean to say that the teachers are lousy or the administrators are lousy. I did not intend that, but what I would like to do is have some kind of dialogue and see if there is something we can do to improve the education for all of the kids. Not just the ones in Fort Thomas or Campbell County. Poor kids deserve the same education than the ones who aren’t so poor.”

There are 14 school districts across Boone, Kenton, and Campbell Counties, half of which are in Campbell. There are 174 school districts in Kentucky. Here is how Northern Kentucky school districts rank in the state: 1 Fort Thomas, 2 Beechwood, 7 Walton-Verona, 21 Campbell Co., 34 Kenton Co., 46 Boone Co., 85 Ludlow, 125 Dayton, 126 Erlanger-Elsmere, 155 Bellevue, 158 Southgate, 162 Silver Grove, 170 Covington, 172 Newport.

5 of Northern Kentucky's 14 districts rank in the bottom 20 statewide.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, another issue with the letter that Rachford sent is that he did so on official city letterhead which also has the names of all the city council members printed on side. Councilmembers Andy Schabell and Sue Neltner both expressed their discomfort for being associated with the letter.

“That was sent out without council knowing about it,” Schabell said. “With our names on the side of it, sometimes that makes it a little rough on us.”

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor