Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Legislature sends Beshear bill to allow superintendents to be evaluated in secret

Only Gov. Steve Beshear stands between the law books and legislation that would allow Kentucky school boards to evaluate superintendents in secret. The state Senate unanimously gave final passage yesterday to the House-amended version of Senate Bill 178. Now Beshear can veto it, sign it into law or allow it to become law without his signature.

"Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the governor would carefully review the bill," The Courier-Journal reports. "It requires that final evaluations be discussed and voted on in public. School boards also would have the option of holding the preliminary sessions in public." The bill would reverse recent court rulings based on the state Open Meetings Act, which allows public agencies to discuss personnel matters in secret only if the discussion "might lead to" the hiring, discipline or dismissal of an employee or student.

Louisville lawyer Jon Fleischaker, chief author of the law and attorney for the Kentucky Press Association, told The Courier-Journal, “I think it’s bad for the commonwealth. It’s been the law for … 35 years that these kinds of things would be done openly.” (Read more)

In an op-ed distributed to Kentucky newspapers, Mike Farrell, director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky, writes "Kentuckians ought to be asking their state legislators why they are more concerned with protecting school board members and superintendents than watching out for the rights and interests of taxpayers."

On its opinion page, The State Journal of Frankfort has a strong editorial and cartoon, but the online version is available only to subscribers. "This bill is a big step backward for the open conduct of public business," the editorial says. "Boards and superintendents should simply get used to the inconvenience of honesty in public places."

Susie Laun of The Advocate-Messenger in Danville has a story in which several school officials in the area say the legislation "will allow evaluations to go back to what boards used to do." They argue it would make the evaluations more thorough, comfortable and productive.

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