EXTRA CONTENT: Corbin, Knox schools file flurry of arguments in advance of reciprocal agreement decision
Even though Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is expected to render a decision on the reciprocal agreement dispute between Corbin Independent Schools and Knox County Schools by March 3, the matter is still expected to be far from settled.
Lisa Gross, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education, said Holliday received the notice of Corbin's appeal on Feb. 1. He has 30 days to consider the matter and render a decision as to whether to uphold Knox County Schools officials' decision to end the reciprocal agreement that allows students living in the Knox County school district to attend Corbin schools and visa versa, without paying tuition.
Whatever decision the commissioner makes may be appealed to the Kentucky Board of Education. Gross said the board would have 60 days to render a decision on the appeal.
Corbin Independent Schools Assistant Superintendent Darrell Tremaine said this decision is not just about the dispute between Corbin and Knox County.
"This is a monumental decision that will set a precedent for anywhere there is an independent school system," Tremaine said.
Appeals process started
As of Tuesday, attorney Robert L. Chenoweth had filed the initial appeal on Corbin's behalf and a second document addressing Knox County's response. Knox County has filed a second response.
In the appeal, Chenoweth said the reciprocal agreement has been in place for more than 30 years. With no prior warning, Knox County School officials made the decision to end the agreement.
"This action by Knox County turned the status quo of student enrollment on its head and portends the total disruption of promoting an efficient system of common schools as between these two school districts," Chenoweth stated in the appeal.
In 1996, Knox County actually ended a reciprocal agreement with Corbin schools, but resumed the agreement again two years later.
Chenoweth argued Kentucky law requires the commissioner to take academic performance, the impact on programs, school facilities, transportation and staffing into consideration.
"As to each factor, the superior performance of CIS over Knox County in meeting the responsibility to assure the desired outcomes are achieved by attending students leaps off the page," Chenoweth stated.
Chenoweth added the loss of the 406 Knox County students who attend school in Corbin would result in the loss of 20 teachers and may limit the students in terms of course options as they pursue their chosen career paths.
In addition, the 400 students have been factored into Corbin's facilities plan.
• Lose $40,600 in Capital Outlay funding that is used to maintain older buildings.
• Lose approximately $289,000 in state funding used to help service its $1.75 million bond debt. As a result, the school system will be forced to use general fund dollars to meet the bond payments until 2030.
In addition, Chenoweth said Knox County parents who elect to continue to send their child/children to Corbin would be required to pay the $1,200 per child tuition.
Tuition increase likely
Corbin Superintendent Ed McNeel said previously, a substantial increase in the number of students paying tuition would result in a significant tuition increase.
"You can't educate a child on $1,200 a year," McNeel said.
"When each of the specific factors is considered, there is no conclusion compelled other than that of authorizing CIS to continue to do that which it has been doing extremely well -- providing a high quality education for every student attending its schools, resident and nonresident alike, with the latter only possible due to a longstanding 'any and all' nonresident student agreement with Knox County," Chenoweth stated.
Chenoweth added statements from 163 parents/guardians who built/bought homes in Knox County with the understanding their children could attend Corbin Independent Schools because of the reciprocal agreement.
"Had we known that Knox County was going to rescind the agreement we would never have built there," parent Tammy Manning said in her letter.
Knox County responds
Knox County School officials have submitted documentation to the commissioner's office in response to Corbin's appeal, noting while there is no formal agreement, Corbin may still accept, enroll and educate any student resident of Knox County, but would not receive the corresponding funding.
Attorney Timothy Crawford, who filed the response, noted several decisions by the Kentucky Attorney General that reciprocal agreements are a matter of local option.
"Thus, Knox has statutory obligations to both provide an education for its resident students and statutory discretion whether to enter into a nonresident student contract with Corbin or any other school district," Crawford stated.
Crawford added Corbin's high scores on standardized tests include the 400 Knox County students.
Crawford said that at this point he doesn't know how the commissioner will rule.
"I haven't gotten any indication one way or another," he said.
The return of those students would result in an additional $1.5 million in SEEK funding to Knox County, which Superintendent Walter T. Hulett said would go a long way in allowing Knox County to rehire 30 teachers and 15 other staff members.
Crawford said Knox County loses additional funding such as Title 1 that allows for the hiring of more resource teachers. Hulett estimated that if 300 of the students returned to Knox County, the school system would receive approximately $122,000, which would allow for three additional resource teachers.
Crawford said Knox County Schools have sufficient facilities and transportation to meet the needs of the 406 students if they all return to Knox County. Knox County would gain an additional $2.5 million in bonding capacity for capital construction projects with the additional 406 students.
The Kentucky Department of Education has declared Dewitt and Flat Lick elementary schools as "transitional" facilities, meaning they cannot be upgraded, renovated or expanded. KDE has made it a priority for Knox County to build a new school to replace those two facilities.
"The loss of 406 Knox County students to Corbin has had a tremendous negative impact on Knox's academic performance, school facilities, transportation system and staffing," Crawford stated.
"If the Knox students have increased academic and test results for Corbin, they can do the same for Knox. If the monies associated with the enrollment of Knox County students in Corbin have helped Corbin build a new elementary several miles west of downtown Corbin and expand its high school downtown, those same Knox students could help provide additional resources to expand or upgrade the facilities in Knox County."
Crawford argued those affected elected to reside in western Knox County with the intent of sending their children to Corbin. This decision allowed them to forego paying the taxes associated with living within the Corbin Independent School District.
In addition, Crawford pointed to a well-known joke in western Knox County that those who live in the brick homes send their children to Corbin Schools while those who live in the mobile homes send their children to West Knox Elementary and Lynn Camp Middle/High School.
"If brick homes can live beside mobile homes in the same Knox County neighborhoods, why can't the children of brick homes also be educated in the same Knox County neighborhood classrooms," Crawford asked.
In Corbin's rebuttal of Knox County's response, Chenoweth noted Knox County's contention that this is a local matter as outlined by the Attorney General ignores the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990.
Chenoweth pointed to amendments enacted in 2007 and a ruling by the Court of Appeals that permit the General Assembly to delegate to specific state agencies the authority to make such rulings so long as there are safeguards and expertise to guard against arbitrary and/or unreasonable decisions.
"It is submitted the delegation to the commissioner of education in KRS 57.350 to settle a dispute as to nonresident student agreement is totally consistent with the authority legislated to the position by the General Assembly as a part of KERA," Chenoweth argued.
Chenoweth noted the 406 Knox County resident students made up just 17 percent of the students who underwent required standardized testing during the 2008-09 school year.
Chenoweth pointed out that 50 percent Knox County students attending Corbin score below 50 percent on the Measure of Academic Progress assessment in math and 55 percent of those students score below 50 percent in reading. The numbers are similar in second grade. However, the number of students scoring proficient steadily increases as the students progress through school. By seventh or eighth grade all of the Knox County students attending Corbin schools have achieved proficiency in reading and math.
"This data demonstrates, contrary to the assertion by Knox County, that the CIS is not getting only 'gifted' or 'brick house' students from Knox County," Chenoweth stated.
Chenoweth argued Knox County officials appear to be fixated on money.
"It is a specious argument that a justification for ending a longstanding nonresident student agreement that has served to benefit the opportunity to learn at a high level for a significant number of children can be rooted in the simplistic notion that if we get more State funds we could hire more people and purchase more busses and in any vent still be required to use general fund dollar to make up the difference between State funding and actual costs," Chenoweth said. "Such thinking is not only bad business-type sense, but is also irrelevant to assessing what action will be fully compatible with and supportive of an efficient system of public common schools."
In Knox County's latest response, Crawford said the decision on the reciprocal agreement is a local matter.
"The Legislature has given the management and control of Knox County schools, including the discretion to enter into contracts to the Knox County Board of Education and the Legislature had mandated that the Knox County Board of Education provide an education for its resident students," Crawford stated.
Gross said either school system is free to provide whatever additional documentation or information officials feel will be helpful.
"The commissioner is free to ask for additional documentation or information from either school system," Gross said. "There may be some give and take, back and forth."
Commissioner suggests mediation
While schools officials await a decision, Gross said Holliday is encouraging them to discuss the matter in an effort to find a resolution.
"The commissioner has sent a letter to both superintendents encouraging both districts to engage in mediation," Gross said.
The mediator would be a neutral third party with a legal background and will take place at a neutral site.
"The department of education can provide a list of potential mediators if the schools ask," Gross said.
Crawford said that the Knox County Board has not indicated to him whether they wish to pursue mediation, and that he hasn't spoken with Chenoweth about the matter.
"I know they have done it in other places, but there has been no offer to mediate," Crawford said.
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