Various failures hurting education
If you care about the quality of education our children receive in the public school system, you should be worried, very worried.Last week I had a discussion with Scott County Superintendent Dallas Blankenship concerning the impact of the state budget on the Scott County school system. He told me that it was time for school leaders to stop acting like everything was going to be all right in spite of the state budget enacted by the General Assembly.To the contrary, the Scott County system is being dramatically stressed by the reduction in funding received from the state, and our programs are going to suffer as a result.In response to the failure of the legislature to provide adequate funding for public education, Scott County schools will be forced to cut over $2 million from its budget. This reduction in funding will result in the termination of all first-year employees who were initially hired last year; cuts in the Extended School Services program that provides tutoring to students who primarily need help in reading and math; reduction of preschool programs; and a delay in acquisition of needed textbooks. And just to make sure local school systems were totally screwed, the legislature required a 1 percent increase in pay that wasn't fully funded.If you want to go right to the heart of this failure, you need to look no farther than the failure by the legislature to raise the tax on tobacco. In reality, it was nothing more than a tradeoff in which ideologues like our state senator, Damon Thayer, chose to protect smokers instead of taking action to help kids. In spite of the fact that tobacco-related illnesses impose hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in costs on our health care system every year, the general assembly, primarily the state senate, failed to address reality.
The true reality is that by failing to take action that would adequately fund educational needs, the legislature has set the course for a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. If education is indeed the key to our state's future success, the inaction of the legislature has our ship of state heading directly toward a waterfall. It kind of makes you wonder if the people responsible for these decisions have their kids in the public school system.In response to this situation the Scott County Board of Education basically has two choices. It can either live within the means provided by current revenue levels, which will result in a $2 million loss in revenues and program reductions, or it can attempt to raise property taxes beyond the 4 percent threshold for recall when the rates are determined later this year. Given the community's lack of support in past efforts, it is unlikely this alternative will be pursued.While this situation is not the fault of our school board, the ridiculous efforts being put forth to hire a new superintendent falls directly at their feet. You will recall that when Dallas Blankenship announced his retirement, the Board of Education formed an advisory committee comprised of certified and classified employees, as well as parents to review the applicants for the position.Their task was to narrow the list to five applicants for consideration by the board. However, almost as soon as the recommendations were made, the board announced it was expanding the search, apparently giving little consideration to the efforts put forth by the search committee.I really didn't realize how little consideration was given to these efforts until this past Saturday night when I attended a wonderful teacher appreciation ceremony held at Bracktown Baptist Church in Lexington, where my wife Debbie, Ann Marie Sill, and Willow Hambrick were honored for their commitment to educating the children of the church.At this ceremony I had the pleasure of meeting Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman, who is widely recognized as the most progressive and effective superintendent in Kentucky.After talking briefly with him, I was horrified to find out that perhaps the finest candidate to apply for the position in Scott County, Carmen Coleman, hadn't even been given the common courtesy of an interview even though she was one of the finalists recommended by the search committee. While acknowledging that the decision was up to the Scott County school board, Mr. Silberman matter-of-factly stated that our board had made a major mistake.In his opinion, the very qualities that resulted in Silberman recruiting Mrs. Coleman away as principal of Anne Mason Elementary to work in Fayette County as his assistant would have made her an excellent choice for Scott County Superintendent.Although the members of the advisory committee were not allowed to rank the applicants in order of preference, I have it on good authority that Mrs. Coleman was the top choice of at least a plurality, if not a majority, of the advisory committee.It is an insult to the members of the committee and, most importantly, Mrs. Coleman for the members of the board not to at least interview such a top notch applicant. In my opinion, this failure was totally unrelated to the qualifications of the applicant. In fact, when an acquaintance asked a school board member about this snub, the person replied "politics got involved."
You would think that our board members would care more about our children, than
politics. As a fitting postscript, I am now hearing that the school board is asking the advisory committee to start meeting again, probably to help clean up the mess they have made of this search process. It is indeed sad that Mrs. Coleman has withdrawn from the process, preferring to wait for an opportunity where a hiring decision will be made based on the merits of the applicants.