The way in which counties across the commonwealth are structured could soon see a change, based on one bill that seeks to amend county lines and another that proposes a change in school districts.
State Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville, introduced two bills during last week’s legislative session that, if passed, would consolidate the 120 counties across Kentucky into 34 and merge all county and independent school districts, consolidating 173 districts into 55 established school districts.
The first bill, House bill 242, would create 55 school districts by eliminating independent districts. It would also abolish all local school boards of education and create new boards by July 2020.
In the proposal, for instance, northeastern Kentucky schools Russell and Raceland would consolidate with Greenup County into one district and Fairview and Ashland would join with Boyd County to make a school district.
In eastern Kentucky, Pike County and Pikeville Independent Schools would consolidate into one school district.
Pike County Schools District Superintendent Reed Adkins said the whole idea seems “a little outlandish.”
“Obviously, I don’t think it’s a good idea for public education. It just doesn’t seem like it would be a good thing,” Adkins told the News-Express in Pikeville. “I mean, right now you have some pretty tough checks and balances. And if you made the districts as large as that bill would make them, then it would be extremely hard to really keep up with your schools.”
Pike County Schools District currently encompasses five high schools, one middle school, 12 elementary schools and two day-treatment facilities. According to Adkins, that’s a pretty significant size for a district, without the consideration of adding in more.
“I know some of the largest school districts, like Jefferson County, they have 170-plus schools in that district. To be a superintendent in that district, I don’t know how there would be any kind of personal touch,” Adkins said. “I just think it would make the district so large that there would be no way that you’d be able to monitor what needs to be monitored to have a great school system.”
Pikeville Independent School District Superintendent Jerry Green said he doesn’t see how this idea would be received well in any school district.
“It would be difficult to find a local community or local school district that would be in favor of giving up their independence to consolidation, especially if that local school district has a proven track record of academic excellence,” Green told the News-Express.
He said Pikeville Independent has been successful as-is and doesn’t think a change in structure would benefit its students.
“For over 100 years, Pikeville Independent Schools has provided students with opportunities to achieve educational excellence within Eastern Kentucky,” Green said. “I cannot imagine why anyone would want this to change.”
Under House bill 242, the Kentucky Department of Education would select superintendents for the new districts for one-year terms, set their salaries and establish the location of each board of education. It calls for the governor to appoint school board members to serve from 2020 to 2022 and establishes school board members to be elected thereafter for four-year terms.
The Kentucky School Boards Association sent a legislative update to its schools, in which the association said it is not on board with this proposal.
“KSBA is strongly opposed to any such legislation that would eviscerate local decision making in our local schools. This bill would destroy the identity of the community schools in every community of the state,” the statement said. “No independent districts would remain after the mergers. Many county districts would be merged together.”
Under the second bill, House bill 243, the county governments of Floyd and Knott counties would merge, the county governments of Johnson, Magoffin and Morgan counties would merge, the counties of Perry Leslie and Breathitt counties would merge and Pike County would remain the same.
The county consolidation bill would abolish 100 of 120 counties and consolidate them into 34 county governments. It would start in 2021, when county judge executives of each unconsolidated county would be required to appoint a commission of three voters who would divide the area of the new county into voting districts. Voters would chose officers for the new county officials in 2022.
Herald is supported by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, on the county consolidation bill, which was forwarded to the Local Government Committee after it was filed in the House, but he is the sole sponsor of the school consolidation bill, which is now with the House’s education committee.
If approved, the school consolidation (House bill 242) would start in 2020 and the county consolidation (House bill 243) would start in 2021. These bills would also create new taxing districts for schools and counties.