Ky. Panel Backs Adding Council Parent

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Parents would have more authority over schools if Kentucky lawmakers agree to a task force's recommendation for adding to school-based decisionmaking councils.

The Task Force on Public Education, a group of 18 government officials, voted unanimously last month to recommend adding one more parent to the six-member councils, which are now made up of a principal, three teachers, and two parents.

The school councils, created by the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, are intended to localize control of schools by strengthening individual schools' decisionmaking authority.

The task force, convened by the legislature last year, is re-examining KERA to determine what, if any, changes need to be made several years into the nationally watched reform effort.

Adding more parent representation is seen as a way to encourage parent interest in the councils, which has been flagging in some areas, according to the task force.

Task force members--mostly state legislators--will forward their recommendations on the school councils and other aspects of KERA to the 1998 legislature, which meets in January.

The task force is expected to disband next month after exploring possible reforms to the KERA-related assessment, the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System, known as KIRIS.

An Equal Voice

School-based decisionmaking councils decide curricula and manage budgets, staff assignments, and disciplinary policies. They also hire principals, based on recommendations by the superintendent, and advise principals on filling other staff positions.

The Kentucky PTA is the proposal's biggest backer.

Representatives of the group have complained for years that the makeup of the councils favors the views of teachers over those of parents.

"Right now we have parents saying that they don't have an equal voice," said Karen C. Jones, the president of the state PTA. "In a lot of schools, parents don't feel welcome. They're outnumbered and intimidated."

A proposal to add a parent to the school councils was debated by lawmakers during the 1996 legislative session, but never made it out of committee.

The recommendation's biggest opposition comes from the Kentucky Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union. The organization wants teachers to maintain a majority on the councils.

Teachers Accountable

Union President Janet Carrico said that since teachers are held accountable under KERA, they should hold a majority of council seats.

Teachers receive one-time cash awards when their schools exceed state improvement targets. State officials also designate schools that fail to meet the goals as "in decline" and implement certain steps to improve their performance.

"This is purely an accountability issue," she argued. "We are not at all downplaying the importance that parents play in their children's education. But practicing teachers, who have the expertise and training, should hold the majority."

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