By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Kentucky teachers are marching on Frankfort and some Northern Kentucky districts are canceling school on the rally date. To draw attention to school funding woes, 68 of the commonwealth's 186 public school districts - including at least three from Northern Kentucky - will close on Feb. 12 so teachers can attend a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol organized by the Kentucky Education Association, the state's teachers union.
"If our legislators are saying that `Education Pays,' then they need to put their money where their mouth is,'' said Dot Perkins, superintendent of Gallatin County Schools and a former teacher.
"We've made great gains under KERA, and we're not anxious to go back to the pre-KERA days.''
Classes had 40 students
Before the Kentucky legislature adopted sweeping educational reforms in 1990,veteran educators say it wasn't unusual to have as many as 40 students in required classes such as English or social studies.
Many elementary schools lacked librarians or art and music teachers.
There were no resource centers for disadvantaged pupils needing extra help, and it was rare to find an elementary school whose staff included a nurse, assistant principal or guidance counselor.
Since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, or KERA, as it's commonly called, the Kentucky Department of Education says, students' scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills have improved, and elementary pupils are reading at higher levels.
Today, however, educators say those gains are threatened by Kentucky's worsening budget crisis.
They say a decline in state funding, coupled with state-required increases in teacher salaries and rising health insurance costs are forcing schools to make drastic cuts that will be felt in the classroom.
Dayton Schools on board
In Northern Kentucky, school districts in Gallatin and Owen counties and Dayton Independent Schools will close on Feb. 12 so teachers can attend the rally.
Tonight,the Ludlow Board of Education is expected to approve closing that day, and on Thursday, the Covington Board of Education also is expected to vote to close so teachers, students and parents can take part.
"Kentucky children will not lose one minute of instructional time because of this rally,'' KEA President Frances Steenbergen wrote in a recent letter to Kentucky newspapers.
"The districts that are choosing to close are simply exchanging Feb. 12 for other, already scheduled closure days,'' Ms. Steenbergen wrote.
Officials in Fort Thomas Independent School District are still discussing whether or not to close for the rally.
School systems in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties and the Bellevue and Newport Independent school districts will not close, but administrators there have said they will try to accommodate teachers who want to take a personal day to attend.
Gains are `threatened'
In the late 1980s, Ms. Perkins said, she taught between 40 and 44 students in her Gallatin County junior high English classes.
Now, by law, Kentucky elementary classes can be no larger than 24 pupils and high school classes can have no more than 31 students.
Before KERA, teachers in the Gallatin County system taught six classes a day with no planning periods, and had to "baby-sit'' their classes during lunch.
There were no assistant principals or school nurses, and only one guidance counselor for the district.
KERA changed that, she said, and younger teachers don't know what they could lose.
"In Gallatin County, we've called a staff meeting for Feb. 3 to explain the significance of the proposed cuts,'' Ms. Perkins said. "We want our young teachers who are reaping the benefits of KERA to understand the gains that we've made and how they are being threatened.''
$2M deficit in Covington
Covington Independent Schools, which is operating at a $2 million deficit, has shifted more than 25 faculty and staff into various positions to avoid layoffs, eliminated an elementary Spanish program started last year, reduced the number of staff cell phones from 71 to 24, and is working with a Kentucky Department of Education team to determine what programs it can cut to balance the budget, said Superintendent Jack Moreland.
Mr. Moreland, who was a key figure in shaping Kentucky's 1990 education reform, was lured out of retirement three years ago to take over the beleaguered district.
The Kentucky Department of Education recently estimated that between 60 and 100 districts will soon have to dip into their mandatory 2 percent contingency fund, and many will operate at a deficit, despite a state law that requires a balanced budget.
As in most districts that are closing on Feb. 12, Covington Independent Schools' education association will pay for the buses transporting teachers, parents and students to Frankfort.
"We're going to encourage as many teachers as possible to go,'' Mr. Moreland said. "We're also encouraging administrators to go. I plan to be there myself.''
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