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Court Upholds Anti-Nepotism Law For School Bd. Members in Ky.

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Upholding one of the most controversial parts of the state's landmark school-reform law, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that residents may not seek seats on local school boards if a close relative is employed by the school district.

In a 5-to-2 decision, the court ruled this month that the anti-nepotism provisions of the reform law do not violate the constitutional rights of school board members or voters.

As a result of the decision, the state attorney general has the authority to remove from office an estimated 70 to 80 board members whose relatives were hired after the board members were elected.

The law allows board members to retain their seats if their relatives were hired prior to their taking office.

Jim Parks, a spokesman for the state education department, said Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen will appoint board members to the new vacancies. His appointees will retain their seats until the November 1993 elections.

School-reform advocates have long argued that nepotistic hiring practices are a barrier to educational improvement in the state, particularly in poor, rural areas where the school system may be the largest employer in the community.

Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, praised the court's decision.

"The feeling that family relationships, nepotism, hiring practices, and partisan politics are so influential in local schools has been an obstacle to public confidence for many years here,'' he said.

Another Challenge?

Virginia N. Chapman, a school board member who challenged the law, last week said she will ask the state high court to review its decision.

Should she lose in that round, Ms. Chapman said, she will take her case to the federal courts.

Ms. Chapman is one of two Covington school board members affected by the decision. First elected in 1958, she won another four-year term in 1990 after obtaining an injunction against enforcement of the anti-nepotism provisions. The district hired her daughter in 1962.

Ms. Chapman pointed out that superintendents and principals, not board members, have hiring authority. Moreover, she said, the voters re-elected her knowing that her daughter was employed by the system.

"If all of us had been disqualified, it would have been one thing,'' said Ms. Chapman. "They grandfathered some in and some not.''

David L. Keller, the executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said small communities will be deprived of capable board members. In many of these areas, he said, it has been the families of children who went away to college and returned home to teach who have been advocates for education and run for office.

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