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Superintendents talk about state legislative session, school projects

 by David Snow
The Paducah Sun
January 5, 2020
Used with permission. 
During the week of Oct. 30, members of the Kentucky Association of State Superintendents met statewide to promote their goals for the 2020 state legislative session. With that session beginning Tuesday in Frankfort, local superintendents gave their opinions about prefiled bills that deal with education issues.

Increased state funding for public schools was the top priority among western Kentucky district superintendents in October in light of the passage of Senate Bill 1 last year, which called for school districts to make several safety and security improvements without state funding provided for those changes, and reduced overall state funding.

Among the 240 prefiled bills for this year's session are 28 that deal with education issues. McCracken County Schools Superintendent Steve Carter and Paducah Independent Schools Superintendent Donald Shively -- both of whom attended the Oct. 30 superintendents' meeting in Eddyville -- spoke about some of those prefiled bills.

Bill Request 136, which requires school districts to have stop-arm cameras on school buses in place by Aug. 1, 2023, is reminiscent of Senate Bill 1 from the 2019 session in that it makes requirements of school districts without providing funding.

The bill allows school districts with equal or less population density than the state of Kentucky (113.14 people per square mile in July 2019) to extend their deadline by five years. In western Kentucky, that includes all county districts but McCracken (262.71 people per square mile).

Carter said that, like Senate Bill 1, BR 136 is a good idea, but the cost is prohibitive for most school districts, especially when state transportation funding is down to just under 60%.

"It's more than just the expense of the camera itself," he said. "There's wiring and there's harnessing and the general upkeep and maintenance of that in a department that isn't being 100% funded by the state anyway.

"Where is that revenue going to come from? I think that's something that becomes very important with the mandate. How is it going to be funded in an area that is underfunded by just over 40% anyway?"

Carter added that he questioned the value of the cameras, saying they were "reactionary" and not something that would prevent people from illegally passing school buses or protect students, rather than offer proof that the incidents happened.

"That's over $100,000 for us," Shively said of the cost of buying, installing and maintaining the cameras. "That's something that the local taxpayers, I anticipate, will have to pay for. We're at about 58, 57% of transportation fully funded through the state, so we're looking at roughly $600,000 extra a year that we put into transportation."

Carter spoke about Bill Request 334, which deletes language for half-day kindergarten, allowing only full-day kindergarten.

"If you're going to remove the language for half-day, then it needs to be funded according to be full-day," he said. "Right now, it's only funded to be half-day. Then, there's transportation issues again.

"Fully funding these things that we are mandated to do is probably one of the biggest things that we'll have to get through this session. ... That doesn't mean, necessarily raising local taxes. We're being diligent with our taxpayer dollars and we're running efficiently and effectively. Make sure that we are able to continue to do those types of things and not just pass the burden of somebody else's mandate to the local taxpayers."

Shively agreed with Carter that state funding for public education needs to increase, not just for education's sake but for the sake of the business and economic areas that education touches.

"Ultimately, we have to be focused on ensuring we work together to fund public education in the commonwealth of Kentucky for students because public education touches every other sector of the state, from an economic standpoint," Shively said.

"As a state, costs continue to rise, yet our revenue is not rising as fast as the costs associated with running state government. I think it's imperative, as a commonwealth, to figure that out."
Both local school districts have construction projects that are well underway. McCracken County is building a new Lone Oak Middle School, set to open in August 2021, while Paducah's Innovation Hub is on pace to be open this August.

The Lone Oak construction required the school district to move the bus garage, and Carter said the new garage should be completed in a couple of months.

"There's a lot of excitement about the new facility," he said. "And, of course, we're excited about our students and the seats that we have at the new (Paducah Innovation Hub) that our students are going to get the benefit of utilizing as well."

Shively has been excited about the Paducah Innovation Hub project from the start and has been champing at the bit in anticipation of its opening in August.

The hub will include traditional technical center fields like carpentry, welding and automotive technology as well as more modern instruction in computer-aided design and robotics and other fields such as art and engineering. It also will house offices, including the school district offices moving from its current building on Caldwell Street.

"We're on track to be operational for the start of school next year," Shively said.

"In the current board office building, that's where we're going to have our Alternative School and use other parts of the building for storage that we need in the district."

Posted Monday, January 6, 2020