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NKY Lawmaker, Teacher Differ on Bill Changing Decision-Making Councils' Power

Written by Mark Payne, LINK Media politics & government reporter

The Senate Standing Committee on Education heard two bills Thursday morning.

Senate Bill 1 focused on giving more power to superintendents to make decisions, taking power away from Site-Based Decision-Making Councils (SBDM). Major school decisions, such as teachers, curriculum, and textbooks, are currently made by SBDM councils. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel (R-Union), will give superintendents the power to make curriculum, textbooks, and other important personnel decisions. Under the bill, superintendents would also be able to hire principals, moving that power away from the councils. Schickel worked on the bill for roughly seven years, as different versions went through the legislative process. 

Schickel noted that he got involved with the process after retiring and started driving school buses. His wife is a teacher, so they both noticed how the structure of having an SBDM council, along with a principal and superintendent, led to a lack of accountability in school systems, he said. 

"As the years have gone by, the need for this bill has become more and more apparent for those who work in our school systems," Schickel said as he presented the bill with Dr. Sally Sugg, superintendent of Shelby County Schools. Sugg explained her position that collaboration is an important part of the process, but ultimately the decision needs to fall back in the hands of one accountable individual.

Supporters of SB 1 also argue that shifting decision-making power to the superintendent puts this in the hands of the school board that oversees superintendents. School board members are elected to office, ultimately putting citizens in charge of the process as they use their power to vote put this leadership in place, proponents argued. 

"At the end of the day, the superintendent needs to have that final say after collaboration," Sugg said. 

The bill also had fervent opposition, particularly from the president of the Kentucky Education Association, Eddie Campbell. The KEA represents over 43,000 educators statewide, including Simon Kenton Teacher Leann Lewis, who issued a statement to the committee. She couldn't attend in person due to the statewide staffing shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"SB 1 will undermine our ability to continue to serve our kids," Lewis said. "We, as teachers, often hear the members of the Kentucky General Assembly talk about the importance of local control. There's no better example of effective local governance than our elected SBDM councils."

Lewis elaborated in her statement that she currently serves as a teacher representative on the SBDM council. She chose to sit on the board because of the impact her decisions have on her students. 

"As a teacher elected representative, I get the opportunity to help our students by making decisions that impact how money is spent, staffing decisions to improve student success, and extracurricular activities that engage all students in school and community," Lewis said. 

The bill passed the Senate education committee and will move on to a vote in the Senate. 

Senate Bill 25, which gives school districts ten extra remote learning days, also passed the committee. It will move to the Senate. 

Dispatches from elsewhere in the capitol: 

House Bill 179, which redistricts the supreme court, passed 81-2.            

HB 172 was heard in the Senate. It moves the filing deadline for candidates seeking an office that requires participation in the May primary, to 4 p.m. on Jan. 25. It passed 28-4 a and will be sent to the Governor's desk. If Beshear signs, it will become law right away due to its emergency clause. 

HB2, which is the House's redistricting proposal, also passed despite Democrats voicing opposition. It is near impossible for Democrats to overcome the supermajority in the House and Senate. 

The Senate redistricting proposal, SB2, also passed with all local Senators, Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), Will Schroder (R-Wilder), and John Schickel (R-Union) voting yes. 

Congressional redistricting, SB3, which splits up Boone County into two districts, 11 and 20, also passed with all local reps voting yes.