Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Covington schools

Moreland blindsides council


Education can't improve without teachers and parents. That's why we have site-based councils in Kentucky schools: so the people closest to kids can help run things.

Tell that to Covington Schools Superintendent Jack Moreland, who seems better at wielding power than sharing it.

The state's Office of Education Accountability recently chastised Moreland for his shuffling of principals at Holmes Junior and Senior high schools last fall.

In violation of state law, the Covington School Board wasn't officially informed of the changes, and, in some cases, neither were the principals, the state says.

'So sue me'

Moreland agrees with the findings. In his haste to fill a new central-office job and select a principal for next year - when the Holmes junior and senior highs will be merged - he failed to do the proper paperwork, he says.

Moreland presents this as a mere technicality, since the board and principals certainly knew what was happening. That's probably true. What's more important here is the subtext: the superintendent's snubbing of the site-based council at Holmes High School.

The council is composed of four parents, six teachers and the principal. After the beginning of this school year, Moreland transferred Holmes' principal, Bill Grein, to the central office.

Council members read about it in the newspaper. When they questioned Moreland's actions at a meeting, he responded in part: "So sue me."

That's one way to get people involved. Several complained to the state.

Balance of power

In Kentucky, superintendents can move principals, but site-based councils are responsible for hiring them. They also write school policies and oversee budgets.

This was a cornerstone of Kentucky's education reform. By transferring some authority to the grassroots, the legislature broke up the patronage systems that had funneled school jobs to good ol' boys with cornmeal for brains.

In the case of new schools, however, superintendents retained the power to select principals. So after yanking Grein, Moreland tapped junior high Principal Ray Finke to lead the newly merged Holmes campus.

He had this authority. But he also could have moved faster to arrange elections for a new site-based council. Instead, it was to be formed this August - a delay criticized by state investigators.

Moreland says he did what he thought was right to move Holmes forward. Some teachers and parents tell me they appreciate his decisiveness, and, to be sure, the district needs strong leadership right now. A $2 million deficit and stagnant test scores at the high school are only two of its problems.

Still, sidestepping school councils - the few parents and teachers who bother to get involved -isn't the way to go. Superintendents who invite council members to sue should be careful what they wish for.

E-mail or call( 859) 578-5584.

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