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Bills aim to consolidate school districts and counties across the state

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Taylor County would be consolidated with Green and Hart counties

By Zac Oakes

 

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Two bills currently in the state legislature have been drawing strong opinions from both sides of the issues.

House Bills 242 and 243 aim to consolidate school districts and counties in Kentucky. Both bills were presented by Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville, who represents Breathitt, Estill, Lee, Owsley, and part of Madison counties. HB 242 does not have a co-sponsor but HB 243 — which aims to consolidate counties — has a co-sponsor in Rep. Adam Koenig, R- Erlanger. Most people, however, think that neither of the bills will get any further than being sent to a committee.

HB 242 would cut the number of school districts to 55 from the current 176 that exist. The bill would consolidate most independent school districts into a county district. Locally, the proposal would move the Campbellsville Independent and Taylor County school districts into a single district combined with Green and Hart counties.

Under this proposal, that newly formed district would contain approximately 7,700 students, roughly the same population as the Pulaski County School District. The new district would cover a land area totaling 984 square miles. Taylor County is 277 square miles itself.

The bill states that the Kentucky Commissioner of Education would choose a superintendent for each of the 55 districts, and those superintendents would serve a minimum of one year, at which point a newly-created board would choose whether to renew their contract or seek a new superintendent. The governor of Kentucky would be tasked with selecting five board members from the board members of each of the school districts pre-consolidation.

Local school superintendents Kirby Smith and Roger Cook of Campbellsville Independent Schools and Taylor County Schools, respectively, had strong reactions to the bill when asked for comment earlier this week.

Smith said he understood the difficult financial situation the state faces, but he was not in favor of the proposal.

“The first thing that came to mind when I saw this bill was….. Wow, this bill is really radical and foolish!” Smith wrote in an emailed statement. “I understand the crisis we are in with the budget, I just don’t think this is what is best for students and staff.”

Cook also said he disagreed with the bill, and said he believes it doesn’t make sense to legislate a massive consolidation of school districts.

“While we are at it, let’s just go ahead and reduce the number of counties down from 120 counties to 60 counties and consolidate all the government functions,” Cook joked.  “Even better, why don’t we just cut from 50 states to 25 states. I think every governor could handle running two states each. That would make about as much sense as the bill to consolidate all of the districts.” 

Cook was joking, but HB 243 would consolidate counties in Kentucky, cutting the number of counties more than in half, from 120 to 54. 

Like HB 242, it would merge Taylor, Green, and Hart counties.

The aim with both bills would be to cut down on spending by combining resources and services, but the bills have drawn quite a bit of criticism, as those opposed point to a loss of jobs among government officials such as county judge-executives, sheriffs, county clerks, and other positions that would be cut in a potential merger.

Proponents of the bill also point to the fact that Kentucky has the fourth-most counties of any state in the nation with 120. Only Texas (254), Georgia (159), and Virginia (134) have more counties. The average number of counties in a state in the U.S. is between 62 and 63.

The Central Kentucky News-Journal reached out to Rep. Herald last week to seek a comment about HB 242 and 243, but Herald’s office did not respond to inquiries as of press time.