Support and Resources for Site-Based Decision-Making Councils: Perceptions of Former Council Members of Two Large Kentucky School Districts

Article excerpt

Legislation has directed schools to convene school councils that typically address issues related to curriculum, instruction, budget, and governance as one means to improve schooling. However, the expectation for improved schools through this involvement remains a challenge. The study examined issues connected to council operation in two large Kentucky school districts. Seventy-six former council members responded to twenty-nine items on a mail-out questionnaire. The areas investigated included training, support, and member effectiveness from the perspective of community members and teacher members. The findings include suggestions to improve council effectiveness and new emphasis for principal and member training.

Keywords: School councils; Council effectiveness; Training and support; Decision-making; Parent; Teacher involvement

A Nation At Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) called for substantial educational reform in the areas of expectations for student achievement, assessment, use of instructional time, and curriculum. Of the many recommendations in the report the authors emphasized an increase of citizen involvement in oversight of school reform efforts and in school governance.

Decentralization of decision making was a central tenet of education reform. Decentralization of authority was not new to school restructuring proposals and was influenced by societal drive to decentralization in business and government (Rallis, 1990). School based-decision making refers specifically to the decentralization of authority from the district to the school-level, including teachers, parents and administrators (Riesgraf, 2002). Hallinger, Murphy, and Hausman (1991) identified four things that have to change during restructuring: (a) decentralize, both administratively and politically, (b) empower those closest to the students, (c) create new roles and responsibilities for all the stakeholders, and (d) restructure the teaching-learning process. From this cauldron emerged the concept of the locally controlled schools, so that decisions that most affect the local school are actually made at the school level. Most of these local governance structures at the schools consist of the principal, teachers, and parents. The Chicago school system initiated one of the first efforts to pursue a major decentralization. In describing the Chicago initiative Hess (1991) stated that Local School Councils (LSC) were established at each school site to make decisions regarding the goals of this law and to utilize allocated resources to support school improvement.

In 1985, sixty-six of the one-hundred seventy-six school districts in Kentucky filed a lawsuit claiming that the finance system for education violated the state constitution because it did not provide an efficient system of education for all students in the commonwealth. In 1989, in Rose v. Council for Better Education, 790 S. W. 2d 186, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state's school system was unconstitutional. The court ordered the General Assembly to reform the property tax system and to provide an adequate education for every child. In defining an adequate education, the court specified learning goals.

In 1990, the Kentucky legislature used the court ordered education reforms to enact a comprehensive package of education reforms known as the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), which focused on three areas: curriculum and instruction, school finance, and school governance. Among the many provisions, the act (a) created an equitable funding formula for education state-wide, (b) established a standardized state curriculum, (c) set academic expectations for student learning, (d) initiated a state-wide testing system, (e) set goals for student attendance, successful transition to adult life and retention, and (f) provided for additional professional development for teachers. Petrosko (1993) claimed that KERA had the greatest impact on education reform efforts in "recent history. …