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State Journal: Bluegrass brouhaha

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Kentucky's Democratic state school chief has added his voice to the chorus of educators who are upset with Gov. Wallace Wilkinson's handling of education matters.

The Democratic Governor, meanwhile, has shown that he can give a punch as well as he can take one, saying his critics are motivated by politics and are largely responsible for problems that will be solved by a reform plan he will introduce in a special legislative session in January.

In recent weeks, the Governor and the Kentucky Education Association have been feuding over the state's adoption this month of a self-insurance health plan for teachers and state employees.

Union members claim their out-of-pocket expenses under the new "Kentucky Kare" plan will be higher than they were under the old plan, and have held several "days of protest" statewide to prod the Governor to address their concerns in the special session.

On Oct. 24, Mr. Wilkinson traveled to Kenton County as part of his ongoing "Capitol to the Counties" program. And at two stops, he was greeted by throngs of teachers waving placards reading "Recall Wally" and "We Care. Does Kentucky Kare?"

Mr. Wilkinson met with protest organizers at one of the stops. After the meeting, union leaders said their pleas "were turned down cold."

"He just flat-out said that kea doesn't represent the teachers," said William Gist, a union official. "He said we're inept and that we're wasting money paying" the union's president, David Allen.

At an Oct. 21 press conference in Frankfort, Mr. Wilkinson noted that the teachers' union endorsed his opponent in last year's gubernatorial campaign.

"I think the kea does not like the Governor," he said.

Mr. Wilkinson's press conference came one day after John Brock, the state school superintendent, blistered the Governor for failing to build a consensus on school reform.

"Somebody has got to lead in education in this state," Mr. Brock said during a school administrators' conference in Lexington.

The school chief noted that "teachers feel as low right now as in any time in my experience" because of their running battle with Mr. Wilkinson over the health-insurance plan.

"No [school-reform] program is going to work until the teachers in this state feel involved and have ownership," he said.

At his press conference the next day, Mr. Wilkinson replied that Mr. Brock was "a 28-year product of the system we're trying to change."--tm

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