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State Journal: 'At large' in Kentucky

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But in Kentucky, where school governance frequently is described as politicized and where school jobs are among the prize plums of patronage networks in some areas, school-board election procedures are a very big deal indeed.

Under current law, the five members of each school district's board are elected separately from smaller sub-districts.

The problem with that system, say reform advocates, is that it encourages members to think only about the interests of their own sub-districts.

As a result, they argue, many board decisions are made on the basis of "log-rolling" deals in which a benefit to one area--a new school, for example--can win approval only if accompanied by a little largess for at least two other areas.

Reformers argue that at-large elections will encourage selection of candidates who are committed to the interests of the district as a whole, and who are more concerned with educational improvements than with handing out school jobs.

Under the proposal, the at-large requirement would apply to all but the largest two school districts in the state--those of Fayette (Lexington) and Jefferson (Louisville) counties.


The state school-board and administrators' groups have strongly opposed the change, however, arguing that only the wealthy will be able to wage costly districtwide campaigns.

Moreover, critics warn, in some cases the effect of at-large elections will be to hand complete control of the schools to the county-based political machines known traditionally as "the courthouse crowd."

While acknowledging the validity of some of those concerns, reform advocates insist that opponents of at-large elections are most concerned with protecting their own turf.

"The job interest is the predominant one," said Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The two sides had been working on a compromise, under which two members would be elected on an at-large basis, in addition to the five chosen by sub-districts.

Somewhat unexpectedly, however, the House education committee voted recently to drop the at-large requirement entirely. But Mr. Sexton predicted that the compromise would be in the final version of the bill.--hd

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