A picture of superintendents sitting around tables in a semicircle during the Local Superintendents Advisory Council meeting at KDE.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s Local Superintendents Advisory Council met on March 28.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, March 28, 2023

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Local Superintendents Advisory Council (LSAC) heard updates on school facilities during the LSAC meeting on March 28. Members also discussed proposed changes to the state’s assessment system and the latest of the legislative session.

School Facilities Update
During the 2022 legislative session, state lawmakers approved House Bill (HB) 678, which accelerated construction projects by allowing a district to start new construction or renovation without the prior approval of KDE.

The bill, a two-year measure that will expire unless the General Assembly takes further action in 2024, also allows a district to spend restricted funds on extracurricular facilities.

Robin Kinney, associate commissioner in the KDE Office of Finance and Operations, said 153 of the state’s 171 districts are working under the provisions of HB 678. She updated the council on how school boards have been working under the new law, which also includes an expedited process for approval of district facility plans and the acquisition or disposal of property.

“We are seeing more and more districts sending us everything we need … in order for us to review and quickly get that decision back to you,” Kinney told the superintendents.

Kinney said KDE is currently working on a review of HB 678 to give lawmakers by Sept. 1 that could include suggestions for permanent changes. She said KDE is supportive of keeping several provisions of HB 678, including:

  • Local boards may continue to approve their own funding, financings, design, construction, renovation or modifications of the district’s facilities;
  • Approval of a complete district facility plan, a request for acquisition of property or a request for disposal of surplus property within 30 business days by KDE;
  • Capital funds usage being approved by local boards of education in compliance with KRS 157.420;
  • Continued use of restricted funds on extracurricular facilities; and
  • Local board approval of agreements previously approved by KDE.

In addition, Kinney said KDE also wants mandatory professional development opportunities for district facility staff. This is important as districts assume more responsibility and accountability for their projects.

KDE met with a workgroup in February to discuss the legislative report. Kinney said discussion will continue with LSAC in the summer as KDE starts work on the regulations in coordination with the Kentucky Board of Education.

New School Accountability System
KDE members and representatives with the Center for Assessment updated LSAC on revisions to Kentucky’s accountability standards.

Rhonda Sims, associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability, said KDE learned a lot from what the department did in 2022 to report a school or district’s status in Kentucky’s accountability system, but the complexity of what is ahead this year increases significantly as the school or district’s change is added.

In 2020, the Kentucky’s General Assembly redesigned the state’s accountability system to include status and change. Status is the school or district’s current year performance, change is how the current year compares to the prior year.

Currently, KDE is developing policy with guidance from LSAC and other groups ahead of workshops scheduled for June 22-23 on Indicator Performance Level Descriptors and School Performance Level Descriptors. The Standard Setting Workshop will follow on Sept. 13-15.

By October, KDE and LSAC will review and approve the recommendations. Afterward, accountability reports will be issued and the final standard setting report will be released.

Ludlow Independent Schools Superintendent Mike Borchers said he has concerns about making too many changes at once, especially as it relates to how districts compare growth year-over-year.

“We just came out of a pandemic last year … and now we’re going to be changing up again this year,” said Borchers. “That just seems very difficult for our teachers and our folks across the state.”

Based on experiences and advice from Kentucky’s Technical Advisory Committee (KTAC), Sims said KDE is developing detailed plans for standard setting with some guidelines in mind:

  • Keeping it simple and easy to follow;
  • Ensuring the system can detect meaningful progress while being reliable; and
  • Make sure the system reflects policy values.

Discussions with LSAC regarding assessment will continue at its next meeting.

Legislative Update
Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass updated LSAC on the legislative session as lawmakers prepare to return to Frankfort after the veto period this week to wrap up their work for the year.

Glass said he’s concerned that efforts to address the teacher shortage from the legislature will fall short of what is needed.

“I don’t think there are sufficient steps, nor resources there, that will really have much of an impact,” Glass said.

Glass mentioned House Bill 319, an effort by House Education Committee Chairman James Tipton to address the teacher shortage. He called it a good first step, but it still doesn’t include enough to help Kentucky combat the problem. The bill has not been passed by the full legislature yet.

Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Robbie Fletcher said the number of qualified applicants for open teacher positions has dwindled significantly, so there’s a major need for a legislative fix.

“If we have two certified applicants for an elementary teaching position, it’s a blessing,” he said.

Another concern is a potential shift in funding as the state will start calculating how state funds are distributed using a district’s average daily attendance again.

The Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) program is a formula-driven allocation of state-provided funds to local school districts for costs, including transportation and help for low-income and special needs students.

Calculations for the SEEK funding formula are based on average daily attendance, but that data has been frozen for the past three school years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, school district attendance is currently being calculated for school funding for the upcoming school year.

Fletcher said most school districts in Kentucky have lost attendance over the last three years, which means a potential $700,000 loss for his district alone.

“We’re kind of in limbo,” he said. “We don’t have any options of how to get that money back.”

Lawmakers return March 29-30 before adjourning for the rest of the year.

Other business:

  • LSAC members received an update on changes to the Kentucky Minimum Specifications for School Buses. KDE Pupil Transportation Branch Manager Elisa Hanley said the changes will have a minimal financial impact on districts.

The next LSAC meeting is May 30.