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Ky. Chief Says State Should Take Over District

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Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wilmer S. Cody closed in last week on the troubled Floyd County district in Prestonsburg, filing formal charges against school officials there and recommending that the state school board place the system under state control.

Two members of Floyd County's five-member school board--Ursal Ray Wilcox and Ray Brackett--and Superintendent Gene Davis resigned earlier this fall after a 115-page state audit concluded that the district "operates like a ship without a rudder."

Mr. Cody's recommendations, released Nov. 12, include formal charges against each of the three other board members--Chairman Jody Mullins, Edward Patton Jr., and B.J. Newsome--that include misconduct, nonfeasance, and willful neglect of duty, along with a suggestion for their removal from the board.

Wilmer S. Cody

Mr. Cody cited "a pattern of a significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the governance or administration of the district" that, among other problems, has caused the 8,000-student district to operate in the red since 1995.

Floyd County ended the 1996-97 school year $320,000 in debt. The district's total budget this year is roughly $40 million.

Mr. Patton resigned from his school board post Nov. 13, saying that the district's financial problems were too big for the board to resolve.

But Mr. Mullins said he intends to stay on and fight the charges. A hearing is set for Dec. 15 and 16 before the state board and Assistant Attorney General Ann Sheadel.

"How can we as people who just meet once a month do our jobs without leadership?" Mr. Mullins said in an interview. "[State officials] gave us no assistance. All we had was people come down and threaten us. I think that the whole situation is wrong."

Mr. Newsome could not be reached for comment last week.

'Deep-Rooted Problems'

Floyd County would be only the second school system taken over by the state. Kentucky assumed control of rural Letcher County from 1994 until last June. A 1992 law allows the state to take over mismanaged school districts for up to three years. ("Audit Spurs Board To Eye Takeover of Ky. District," May 25, 1994.)

State officials have asked Floyd County leaders to straighten out the district for more than a decade, but to no avail, according to education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross.

"Floyd County has some real, deep-rooted problems," she said. "Citizens, teachers, everyone involved in the schools have become real frustrated, and morale is very low. They welcome anything that will help improve education in Floyd County."

Ms. Gross said she expects that the state school board will move ahead with the takeover next month and that the system will be under state control for "a full three years."

Mr. Cody's recommendations repeat findings detailed in the scathing state audit of the system released in September. That report concluded that:

  • The district has no defined budgeting process.
  • Many schools are lacking in instructional materials and supplies, equipment, and equipment maintenance and repair.
  • Floyd County's school-based decisionmaking councils, which decide curricula and manage budgets, staff assignments, and disciplinary policies, fail to understand their legal responsibilities.
  • The district's employee-evaluation program is in "total disarray."
  • The district's special education building is substandard, does not accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and has student records stacked on the floor.

The majority leader of the state House, Rep. Gregory D. Stumbo, a Democrat who represents Prestonsburg, said he reluctantly supports the state on this matter.

"I know these board members, and I respect them, but they haven't been able to comply with their statutory responsibilities," he said last week. "You can't criticize the state department for this action."

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