Friday, March 26, 2010

School News from Around Kentucky

Jury convicts all 8 defendants in Clay vote-buying case: Some of the most powerful public officials in Clay County corrupted elections in recent years, buying and stealing votes in pursuit of power and money, a federal jury ruled Thursday. The jury convicted all eight people on trial, including former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle, 66, and former school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams, 58, on a charge that they engaged in organized criminal acts to rig elections. After a seven-week trial, jurors deliberated about nine hours before convicting the defendants on all the charges they faced, which included vote-buying, mail fraud, extortion and money laundering. (Herald-Leader)

A one-year delay - Reason for putting off hike in dropout age a bit puzzling: The Senate Education Committee has amended the House-approved bill raising the minimum dropout age from 16 to 18, but not before approving an amendment that will delay implementation of the new law by a year. While we have no strong objections to the change, we are a bit puzzled by the explanation Senate Education Committee Chairman Ken Winters, R-Murray, gave for the amendment.Under the House-approved bill, the minimum dropout age would be raised from 16 to 17 in 2014 and to 18 a year later. Under the Senate amendment, the dropout age would be raised to 17 in 2015 and to 18 a year later.Winters said delaying the effective date gives students and parents more time to adjust to the higher dropout age. Just how much time does one need to adjust to quitting school? (Daily-Independent)

Leading schools - Keep chief's evaluations open: The open meetings law already allows school boards to go into private session to discuss hiring, firing and disciplining superintendents. The legislature should not rob the public of its right to hear what school board members have to say during a superintendent's annual evaluation. Senate Bill 178, which is a House vote away from passage, would close preliminary evaluations to the public while requiring that only final evaluations be discussed and voted on in public. The House Education Committee approved SB 178 after hearing testimony that school board members would shy away from having a frank discussion about the superintendent in front of the public and press. That line of reasoning ignores why we have sunshine laws: The people who pay the taxes and depend on public schools to educate the state's children have a right to hear those frank discussions. It's the public's business, and the House should respect that by rejecting this rollback of Kentucky's sunshine laws. (H-L)

Commissioner Holliday to superintendents - cuts are coming, prepare to deal with it: Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has challenged the state’s superintendents to find ways to deal with anticipated SEEK funding cuts in the 2010-2012 budget being negotiated in the General Assembly. And Holliday offered to work one-on-one with any who don’t think they can make ends meet without reducing students’ classroom learning time. “Surely as superintendents we can figure out ways to address a 1 percent to 1.5 percent cut,” Holliday said in a Wednesday afternoon webinar for the state’s chief district administrators. “I know we’ve had lots of cuts. It’s difficult. But as a local superintendent (in North Carolina), I had to make a 10 percent cut. We didn’t cut any instructional time and we made sure the money went to the classroom. My challenge to you today is to do that. “I know you are getting mad at me. Some of you are steaming at the collar. But as commissioner, my No. 1 priority is instructional time for children. We cannot be seen as backing up on instruction,” he said. (KSBA)

No to shadowy dealings: ‘It's sometimes difficult to be totally honest in front of the press.” That startling statement was made yesterday by Sara Call, a member of the Frankfort Independent Schools board, speaking in favor of Senate Bill 178, which would close portions of school board meetings in Kentucky to the public. Ms. Call went on to describe such sessions, in which superintendents are subject to evaluation, as a time when board members need to have conversations that are “frank, honest and sometimes painful. She said that closing a portion of the evaluation would allow board members to have difficult conversations that might not occur in an open meeting...This is a bad bill. The present sunshine law already permits closing the meetings for truly private issues. The Senate passed it already, so if the full House takes it up and passes it, Gov. Steve Beshear should put it at the top of his list to veto. (C-J)

Closed doors don't foster accountability: In several recent court rulings, school board members preferring that their thoughts about how their superintendents are performing remain private have found that the law wasn't on their side. Now they're trying to change the law.Senate Bill 178 was approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday, and assuming it passes the full House and becomes law, school districts could conduct any preliminary discussions about the evaluation of superintendents in closed session.Rep. Jim Glenn, an Owensboro Democrat and one of nine who voted against the bill Tuesday, had it right when he questioned why board members would have one thing to say in private, but something different once they are in public."I'm an elected official. I'm required to be frank. I don't understand why they have a concern with that," Glenn said after the hearing. "That's what you're elected to do, and the public should have a chance to hear it." (Messenger-Inquirer; subscription required)

Exercise bill is well intentioned, just not practical: House Bill 52 is a well-intentioned piece of legislation, but we believe that it would take away students’ time from the primary purpose of Kentucky’s schools - education.The bill would mandate that 30 minutes of physical activity be set aside each day for schoolchildren attending K-5 schools and encourage schools with grades 6-8 to adopt similar policies. The intentions behind the bill are to reduce obesity and improve body mass index in children.Again, this bill sounds very good in theory, but there are some concerns being raised by Warren County and Bowling Green school officials that appear to have validity.They say the measure presents difficulties from a school facilities standpoint and a scheduling perspective. From a facilities standpoint, there are some problems such as how would this be implemented in the winter months when it’s too cold for kids to go outside or when it is raining or snowing? (Daily News)

House leaders hear governor's suggestions, concerns on budget: The Senate's $17.3 billion budget includes deeper cuts to almost all state agencies than the House's $17.5 billion budget. The House's version calls for 2 percent cuts in the first year of the budget and exempts some social services and other programs. The Senate's version calls for across-the-board cuts of about 1.5 percent on top of the House's 2 percent cuts in the first year, and for a 1 percent cut in the second year. The House and Senate versions also differ in cuts to K-12 education. The House proposed cutting two instructional days, while the Senate proposed cutting 1.5 percent from the main funding formula for schools and an additional 1 percent in the second year. It restored the two days but did not add any money to pay for them. The Senate gave schools greater flexibility in how to use some state money but also suspended some rules about classroom size and teacher credentials. Stumbo said earlier Thursday that he knew the Senate budget would not pass the House as it stands. The cuts to education are too deep, Stumbo said, noting that cuts to one of his local school districts would be more than $600,0000. Not funding those two school days is an "unfunded mandate," Stumbo said. (H-L)

Education leader looks to Madison County for ideas: Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday visited several Madison County schools on Wednesday to tour the campuses and interact with students.Holliday began the day at B. Michael Caudill Middle School and Glenn R. Marshall Elementary School, participating with Madison County Schools superintendent Tommy Floyd in a district-wide live broadcast to students...Holliday next made a trip to Madison Central High School, where he met with students in the Superintendent’s Teen Task Force, Student Voice and the African American Male Mentoring Program, asking students what they thought could be done to improve education in Kentucky.“Last year, 7,000 students dropped out of school in Kentucky,” Holliday said. “Every day in the U.S., 7,000 dropped out. I’m real worried about that. That’s a dead end street, dropping out of school.”Students often drop out because of boredom or a feeling that they are not important, said Holliday.“How can we change high school so more students graduate and are ready to face the world?” He asked. (Richmond Register)

Bullitt Central teacher sued by student who claimed sexual abuse: The Bullitt County teacher charged with sexual abuse involving a 16-year-old female student has been named in a lawsuit filed by the student and her family. The lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in Bullitt Circuit Court, also names Bullitt Central High School's principal and three assistant principals. Timothy Lands, 43, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse in January and was suspended without pay from his job as a social studies teacher at the Shepherdsville high school. (C-J)

JCPS sees progress in student-assignment plans - Board members say they are expecting much smoother start for classes this fall: After listening to an update on a number of operational changes for Jefferson County Public Schools' new student assignment plan, school board members said Monday night they believe the changes will mean a much smoother start this fall. “I think this year will be much better,” member Carol Haddad said. “It won't be perfect, but it will be better.” District officials have acknowledged the student-assignment plan's first year was bumpy with complaints of long bus rides, students getting on the wrong buses and not being notified promptly of their school assignment. “We've solved an enormous amount of problems,” Superintendent Sheldon Berman said. “We are light years ahead of where we were last year.” (C-J)

Schools asked to try alternative discipline - Group wants kids to remain in class: A group of religious organizations and concerned citizens will meet with local education and court officials Monday night to promote alternative discipline methods as a way to stop “the school to prison pipeline.” Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, which will hold the meeting at the Kentucky International Convention Center, plans to push for restorative justice, a form of discipline that seeks to avoid removing problem students from regular classrooms and schools. The program, which is in use in New Zealand, requires that offenders face their victims, who would address the offending students directly before other punishment may be handed out.
Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church and co-chair of the group's crime and violence issues committee, said the method is designed to make the students understand their mistakes and restore them to the classroom. “Punishment is retaliatory,” he said in an e-mail. "Restorative justice transforms the offense by making the offender face the harm they've done and trust they've broken.” (C-J)

School system should’ve been more proactive: Two recent incidents involving Warren County schools raise valid concerns about the school system’s failure to advise the parents of alleged victims in a timely manner.The first incident involves allegations made against Warren Elementary School Principal Phillip Shelton.Shelton is accused of inappropriately touching a 10-year-old female student on the buttocks in a classroom March 9. The teacher in the room at the time made an anonymous call to the Warren County Board of Education to report the incident on March 10. The student told her parents that day after talking to her teacher.Shelton was suspended with pay March 11.It appears the school system took the appropriate action in suspending Shelton, but the fact is, school officials never notified the child’s parents of the incident.In another alleged incident, this time on March 8 on a school bus carrying students home from Oakland Elementary School, a 9-year-old boy is accused of fondling three 5-year-old girls, but again, parents weren’t notified of the incident until several days later. (Daily News)

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