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Kentucky Judge Reinstates Ousted Board Members

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A circuit-court judge in Harlan County, Ky., has reinstated three school-board members ousted by state officials and criticized the state's efforts to enforce governance provisions of Kentucky's 1990 school-reform law.

State officials last week were preparing to file an appeal of the ruling and ask for an emergency injunction that would keep the board members off the Harlan County panel.

Judge Ron Johnson called for the reinstatement of Ronnie Ball, Benny Dale Coleman, and David Lewis--the first board members removed under the reform law. Judge Johnson also ruled that the state board of education's closing of its proceedings on removing the Harlan board members was unconstitutional.

The judge said that the alleged financial misconduct by Mr. Ball and Mr. Lewis was not willful and that the charges against Mr. Coleman should have been handled by the state attorney general's office.

Observers noted that the ruling coincided with a heated re-election campaign by Representative Roger Noe, the chairman of the House Education Committee who was a leader in drafting the reform law and has been a strident critic of local school boards.

Mr. Noe, who represents Harlan County, was defeated in last week's primary after 15 years in the legislature. He said the court decision, which gave the reinstated board members newfound political clout, turned the tide against him.

"It was a setup,'' Mr. Noe said last week, charging that political arm-twisting of school-district employees spelled his defeat. "If you look at the 400 votes that beat me and count up all of the cooks and bus drivers, that was the margin of victory.''

Mr. Noe warned that the events in Harlan County illustrate the steep uphill climb that still remains in gaining local acceptance of reform.

"It's an ominous message that bodes ill for future education leaders,'' he said. "It portends poorly for the future of some of my colleagues.''

State officials noted, however, that a reform backlash was not evident in any other primary races. They also downplayed the statewide impact of the Harlan County ruling.

"I don't think anybody was surprised,'' said Jim Parks, a spokesman for the education department. "This creates a snag in Harlan County, but in terms of the overall program of enforcing the law and proceeding with removals in other districts, it has no effect.''

State officials expect that once an appeal is filed in state court in Frankfort, a decision will take more than eight months. ws--L.H.

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