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Reform Law's Influence Seen in Ruling on Ky. Superintendent

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A Kentucky judge has upheld the first removal of a local superintendent under the state's 1990 school-reform law.

Floyd County Circuit Judge Harold Stumbo this month ruled that Ron Hager, the former superintendent of the Floyd County schools, was not wrongly removed from his job by the state board of education last June.

Observers said the judge's ruling was an important endorsement of the expanded governance powers granted to the state board under the landmark reform law.

In essence, the ruling agreed that sufficient evidence existed to find Mr. Hager guilty of misconduct. The charges included falsifying financial statements, allowing illegal bingo games on school property, and failing to place school-construction funds in interest-bearing bank accounts.

Judge Stumbo added, however, that while he did not find that the board had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, the charges did not show that Mr. Hager's actions had brought him personal gain.

Further, the judge wrote, the presence of an attorney for the legislature's Office of Education Accountability, which investigated the superintendent, at Mr. Hager's board hearing did not square with legal due process.

Judge Stumbo is the father of Rep. Gregory D. Stumbo, a reform-law architect who recently has been critical of state education officials.

Department Authority Backed

State officials said the ruling was good news because it was the first time an action under the reform law was upheld by a local judge.

In earlier tests, the state has lost in cases decided by circuit judges, although those decisions were later reversed on appeal.

"The language in the decision recognizes the extensive authority that the state board has in assuring proper management of school districts,'' said Jim Parks, a spokesman for the state education department.

The ruling, however, does not close the books on upheaval in Floyd County, where the state continues to scrutinize the school district's leadership.

The new superintendent, Steve Towler, was recently notified by the state board that it expected more progress in implementing a local improvement plan. State officials had anticipated some action on that matter this month, but officials said last week that it is on hold.

Two vacancies were created on the Floyd board when one member died and another resigned. Two of the other three members were recently elected, so officials said they may wait until after Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen fills the open seats before further scrutinizing Mr. Towler's leadership.

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