A change in the state education board’s policy could allow new board members to become board chair or vice chair without board experience.

Hal Heiner

Board member Hal Heiner, who was appointed to the Kentucky Board of Education in April, asked to get rid of a board policy that required anyone in a leadership role to have served on the board for at least a year. It passed 9 to 1 Wednesday (board member Alesa Johnson was not at the meeting).

The change could potentially make the board prone to political moves, as a brand-new board member could technically be elected chair at his or her first meeting. Governor Matt Bevin appointed six new members at one time in April — a majority vote for the 11-person board.

Heiner did not respond to requests for comment about his motion on Thursday.

The board chair has more influence over the board’s agenda than regular members, but does not have additional voting power.

Vice chair Rich Gimmel said, despite some attributing the board’s actions to “nefarious motives,” he hasn’t seen anyone trying to influence the board for political gain.

“Without exception, the actions of board members that I have been aware of have been motivated by an honest desire to do what is best for students,” Gimmel said in an email to Insider. “Sometimes that means the interests of adults, including ourselves as board members, are secondary.”

Veteran board member Gary Houchens voted against the change, saying requiring a year of service is based on a “wise principle” that members normally need at least a year to become acclimated before entering a leadership role.

Of the 11 board members, five meet that experience requirement: Houchens, Johnson, Gimmel, chair Milton Seymore and Ben Cundiff. However, many of the newer board members have some experience working with the board, whether through at-large advisory roles (Tracey Cusick, Kathy Gornik and Joe Papalia) or as the Secretary of Education and Workforce Development (Heiner).

“We have an exceptional circumstance in that many of our new board members were previously advisers to the board or worked closely with the board and really don’t need such an acclimation period,” Houchens said.

Gary Houchens

“But we should make policies based on general principles, and not exceptional circumstances, because we aren’t just making policy for ourselves, but for the people who come after us also, and precedents matter.”

Houchens also said significant policy changes should have more discussion and consideration than Wednesday’s vote had. The board quickly discussed the matter and voted over eight hours into their daylong meeting. Only a few reporters and education officials were still in the room.

Houchens hopes one of the veteran members steps up because it’s “part of our responsibility.” Both he and Gimmel told Insider they aren’t interested in becoming chair. Houchens said he has a “great deal of confidence” in the six new board members, all appointed in April.

“Any of them could be chair or vice chair right now and do a fine job,” Houchens said. “But I still think the general principle should prevail.”

Before joining Insider Louisville, Krauth was a multiplatform reporter at TechRepublic, where she wrote news stories and features about the intersection of technology and business. Krauth is a graduate of the University of Louisville, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism, with a minor in Russian studies. She completed a prestigious Dow Jones data internship at the Austin American-Statesman last summer. Email Olivia at [email protected]


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