FRANKFORT – Senate Bill 1 could make substantial changes to the authority superintendents of Kentucky school districts exercise, especially in their ability to hire principals.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990 made a lot of big changes to the state’s education system, but one of the more drastic changes was the creation of school-based decision making councils. According to the Kentucky Department of Education website, membership of each SBDM council includes parents, teachers and an administrator of the school. A council makes many important decisions for the school it represents, including deciding the curriculum, but arguably the most important decision is the hiring of the school’s principal.

According to the Legislative Research Committee, SB 1 was introduced in the Kentucky Senate on Jan. 4, the first day of the 2022 General Assembly. After clearing several committees, it passed 25-9 in the Senate on Saturday and was received by the House of Representatives, where it now awaits a vote.

If it becomes law, the bill would amend KRS 160.345 to require that the superintendent instead of the SBDM council would determine curriculum after consulting with the principal and council and after a stakeholder response period. It would also require that allocations to schools by local boards be determined by the principal after consultation with the council, as opposed to the council making that decision. It would further alter the principal hiring process, putting that decision in the hands of the superintendent after consultation with the school’s council.

The bill would also require SBDM council members to sign a nondisclosure agreement prior to consultation and would allow for a complaint process and removal of a council member for violation of that agreement. It would also amend KRS 158.6453 to require KDE to provide guidelines for effective writing programs to all districts instead of all schools and would remove the requirement for schools to submit policies determining the writing program to KDE. 

SB 1 was sponsored by Republican senators John Schickel, Mike Wilson, David P. Givens, Stephen Meredith, Robby Mills, Damon Thayer, Stephen West, Max Wise, Ralph Alvarado and Rick Girdler. Sen. Jason Howell (R-Murray) said he is supportive of the bill.

“That bill has gone to the House and I don’t know if it will make it through the House, but I can’t imagine it will make it out of the House without being amended,” Howell said. “There will be some teachers that will be upset about this because they’ll view that as taking some power away from the teachers, but it really allows for a consolidation of both hiring and firing practices and a coordination of curriculum. It’s not as big of a deal here (in Murray) where we have very few schools within a district, but when you get up in some of the larger districts, that gets to be a real issue.”

Howell said critics of SB 1 would likely argue that the bill reduces accountability and parent input, but he believes the bill would accomplish that goal better because the superintendent is beholden to a school board, which is beholden to all voters, including parents.

While Howell, a former member of Murray Independent School District’s board of education, thinks SB 1 would have more impact in large school districts, both local superintendents said they support it. MISD Superintendent Coy Samons said that to his knowledge, there is no other state that currently does not give superintendents direct authority in hiring principals. He said that regardless of whether or not the bill becomes law, he thought he would continue to have a good working relationship with MISD’s three SBDM councils.

“I’ve worked well with councils in the past when it comes to replacing principals, but as far as Senate Bill 1, if I’m going to be responsible for adverse actions on an individual, I should be responsible for hiring the principal,” Samons said. 

“Senate Bill 1 would give the superintendent the ability to determine curriculum and hire principals in consultation with the school SBDM councils,” said Tres Settle, superintendent for the Calloway County School District. “Whether or not this bill becomes law, we believe best practice in effective schools is to involve teachers and parents in the decision-making process, and that is what SBDM councils do. Even with this bill, I still plan to work with SBDM councils to provide schools with high-quality instructional materials to teach our state’s content standards and to hire the best people we can to lead our schools.”

Rep. Mary Beth Imes (R-Murray) could not be reached for comment Wednesday.