Kentucky Task Force Still Unclear on Reform Goals

By Reagan Walker — October 25, 1989 3 min read

Nearly five months after the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered a complete restructuring of all aspects of the state’s school system, reform efforts have yet to move beyond the stage of deciding on the process for achieving the changes.

The Task Force on Education Reform, a panel composed of legislators and representatives of the governor’s office, has held a number of meetings to lay the groundwork for its mission.

But sources in the state say that, so far, no definite blueprint for a revamped school system has been forthcoming.

“A grand design has been slow to emerge,” said Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens’ advocacy group.

Many legislators are still trying to define the job at hand. Vic Hellard and Thomas Dorman, the task force’s coordinators, have asked the state attorney general’s office for an opinion on whether the court’s sweeping decision will require the legislature to repeal and then re-enact those education-related laws it may want to keep.

The supreme court’s ruling “strongly suggests” that such action would be necessary, Mr. Hellard and Mr. Dorman said in a letter to Attorney General Frederic Cowan. Several hundred laws touching on Kentucky’s schools may be involved.

When the decision was handed down, Chief Justice Robert F. Stephens wrote that the court was invalidating “the statutory system as a whole.” The court did not identify specific laws.

Mr. Hellard and Mr. Dorman asked the attorney general to identify which laws pertaining to state4schools were declared by the court to be unconstitutional.

All laws that have been struck down must be identified before the task force can develop, and the legislature can enact, a constitutional system of schools, Mr. Hellard and Mr. Dorman argued.

The court recently clarified several issues raised by its decision and extended the legislature’s deadline for rebuilding the school system from the end of the regular 1990 legislative session to mid-July of next year.

But in the letter, Mr. Hellard and Mr. Dorman argued that several points in the court’s opinion “remain less than clear.” Those questions, they said, involve interpretation of the decision, not rereview by the supreme court.

Also, responding to pressure from civil-rights leaders who complained the task force had no minority representation, Joan Taylor, who is black, was invited to join the panel.

Ms. Taylor is Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson’s liaison for the Cabinet for Human Resources.

Appointed School Chief

Meanwhile, the joint interim committee on elections and constitutional amendments has prefiled a bill for the 1990 regular session that represents a new attempt to change the state superintendent’s position from an elected position to an appointed one.

The bill would create a new state school board that would hire the superintendent. The idea is different from one voters rejected in 1986 because a majority of the 13-member state board would be elected.

The state board currently is appointed by the governor withoutconfirmation by the legislature.

Under the committee’s plan, the governor would appoint six board members with the approval of both the House and Senate, while seven members--one representing each of the state’s Congressional districts--would be elected.

The newly configured board would gain the power to hire the state superintendent.

An appointed superintendent has been advocated for several years in Kentucky as a way to provide continuity to the school system and to stem political influence. But voters have repeatedly rejected the idea.

Legislators on the committee said they hope voters will be more willing to accept an appointed state superintendent in exchange for an opportunity to elect state school board members who can influence the selection.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 1989 edition of Education Week as Kentucky Task Force Still Unclear on Reform Goals