Who Should Hire Public School Principals? A Ky. Bill Shifts The Responsibility

Feb 5, 2020

Kentucky public school principals would be chosen by district superintendents — not local school-based councils — under a bill that is again making its way through the General Assembly.

A school bus is parked outside the Kentucky Capitol on Wednesday, February 5, 2020.
Credit Josh James / WUKY

Senate Bill 7 backers say the latest iteration leaves intact the site-based decision-making councils', or SBDMs', powers, except for the authority to hire principals. They argue the current system makes it difficult to hold anyone accountable for low performing schools.

Bill sponsor John Shickel has been pushing for the change for years, and hopes it finally gains traction in 2020.

"To me it's a common sense bill," the Union Republican says. "It gives the community the final say in how its schools are run, and I think it should. I'm very optimistic."

But opponents contend the measure strips away local control by handing too much authority to one person. Lucy Waterbury, an SBDM advocate, testified Wednesday that the councils made up of parents, teachers, and an administrator still serve the same purpose they did back when they were introduced as part of education reform in 1990.

"Parent power, teacher power, local stakeholder power was needed in Kentucky then. It's needed now," she said.

The latest version of the bill adds another parent to the councils, but critics, including the Kentucky Education Association, say the addition doesn't do enough to allay their concerns.

Last year lawmakers approved a bill expanding superintendent authority, but only in the state's largest school district, Jefferson County. A broader bill affecting all public school districts stalled in a House committee.