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Report Debunks Nepotism Issue In Ky. Districts

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Despite charges that nepotism is rampant within many Kentucky school systems, the practice appears to be relatively uncommon, a new report by the state department of education concludes.

Only 2.3 percent of school employees are related to high-level officials within their district or local government, the report estimates on the basis of a survey of 174 of the state's 177 districts. And of those "kinship" employees, only an unknown fraction were hired as the result of favoritism, the report indicates.

No specific actions by the state to curb the practice are warranted, it suggests.

Even so, legislative advocates of tougher state measures against nepotism also found some ammunition in the report.

All but two of the districts responding to the survey reported having at least one employee who was related to the superintendent, a board member, a principal, a central-office staff member, or a local public official, critics noted.

The survey was conducted in response to the "perceived problem ... sometimes referred to as the 'stench of nepotism,"' the study said.

Arguing that statistics on the actual incidence of nepotism and cronyism would be difficult or impossible to obtain, however, the report focused solely on the hiring of relatives, regardless of whether or not they were the most qualified persons for their jobs.

The study "confirmed what we thought before, and that is that nepotism is not a widespread problem in the state," said Kendrick Scott, associate executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Avoiding hiring relatives is often "nearly impossible," he added, in communities that have little immigration and contain many large extended families.

"There is no way we can operate an educational program and ensure that no relatives of a board member or the superintendent will participate," he said.

Some members of the legislature have urged that local school boards and administrations be required to make public any hiring of a relative. Such legislation has never been approved, however.

One advocate of legislative action on the issue, Senator John Rogers, a Republican, called for a separate legislative study of kinship hiring and nepotism. The department's study is "incomplete," he said.

The legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee is currently considering the request.

But the department's study concludes that legislative action might not be necessary.

"Is a 2.3 percent rate of kinship an overabundance of relatives necessitating drastic policy measures to counteract?" asked Tom Mowery, the director of the study.

Instead, he suggested, the education department should assist those districts not having "adequate" employment policies to implement fair-hiring procedures.

"This positive response might be more effective than coercive, punitive, or simplistic solutions," he said.--rrw

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