Whitesburg KY

School boards may have violated law

Letcher County school boards may have violated a state attorney general’s opinion when members met in private to evaluate the respective superintendents, Deborah Watts and Anna Craft.

Each of the two school boards awarded a pay raise to its superintendent after the closed session, each of which appears to have violated an attorney general’s opinion requiring that superintendent evaluations be done in public.

The Jenkins Independent Board of Education was the latest to express its satisfaction with its top school official when it awarded Supt. Watts a pay raise of about $4,000 annually, to $92,000, during a special meeting held Monday. The meeting was called for the purpose her first year as superintendent of the Jenkins System.

The Letcher County Board of Education took similar action on June 22, when it came out of a closed-door meeting to announce it was awarding a new four-year contract to Supt. Craft and increasing her annual salary of $122,871.46 by one percent.

The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville announced this week that it is challenging a closed-door meeting held by the Jefferson County school board to discuss the superintendent’s job performance.

The Courier-Journal filed a formal complaint Monday over the June 29 closed meeting. After the closed session, the board released a public statement commending Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

The meetings in Letcher and Jefferson counties appear to be in violation of an October 2008 ruling by the attorney general’s office requiring that the entire process of evaluating the superintendent must be conducted in an open session of the school board

A spokeswoman for the Jefferson County schools, Allison Gardner Martin, said the board there was aware of the attorney general’s ruling, but it decided to go ahead with the closed meeting after consulting with legal counsel.

The attorney general’s opinion, which has the force of law, was the result of a complaint filed against the Spencer County Board of Education, which had evaluated its superintendent in a closed session, the

Courier-Journal reported on Tuesday. The Spencer County board has filed a legal challenge to the opinion.

Several education entities, including the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky School Boards Association, are supporting the Spencer board’s appeal to keep the evaluation discussions secret, the Courier-Journal reported.

The newspaper said that before the attorney general ruling, local school boards regularly held closed sessions to conduct annual superintendent reviews.

During those sessions, the boards typically held informal discussions about the superintendent’s job performance and formulated the final evaluation. The boards then voted to adopt the evaluations during a public meeting, the newspaper said.

Wesslund told the Courier

Journal it was her understanding that other school districts have continued to evaluate their superintendents in closed session since the opinion.

Jenkins School Board Chairman Durward Narramore Jr. said he believes Watts is taking the Jenkins system in the right direction and is working to benefit the students. He added that the finances are in order and said he believes the system will see gains in overall performance.

Watts was named superintendent last summer and during her first year, the Jenkins system changed from a traditional school system to a single entity or K-12 system and also took part in an intensive assist program with the Kentucky Department of Education and an assist team led by former Pike County Superintendent Frank Welch designed to raise test scores and improve the overall quality of education. The 2009-10 school year will be the system’s first entire year as a single entity school.

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