SBDM Councils – Wrong for Kentucky Schools and Families

Phyllis Sparks

SBDM Councils – Wrong for Kentucky Schools and Families


“…there are limits on a board’s authority and we are not permitted

to usurp the authority of site based councils.”  

            -Local School Board Member

on the behalf of the board and superintendent

     December 2014

So often we hear that local control is better. I firmly believe that government decisions are better made at the local level. I also believe it is possible for control to become too localized. I would like to share my experience with Site Based Decision Making councils (SBDM) as a parent and a parent representative in our Kentucky schools.

In 1990, the Kentucky General Assembly, in response to a court decision, passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act also known as KERA. This education reform would dramatically change funding, curriculum, and governance of public schools in our state.

KERA legislation mandated the creation of SBDM councils.

SBDM councils are small boards within each school that provide policy, programs and curriculum for that school and also hire the principal.  Councils are composed of the school principal, three teachers, and two parents of current school students.

The design was intended to circumvent political control by powerful families who either work for the school district or live within the community. At the same time, the design excludes various constituencies including taxpayers without children enrolled in public schools.

An intentional side effect of this type of governance was to foster competition between schools within the district, aiming to drive a competitive focus on education, with the hopes of improved test scores.  The actuality is this competition has created silos of secrecy.

After enrolling my twins in 2002 with our local school, we soon discovered our son showed signs of a learning difference. With much frustration, after completion of his fourth grade year, I sought an outside diagnosis for our son.  This was when I first learned of dyslexia, and was advised our best course of action was to pursue a multi-sensory instruction known as Orton-Gillingham (OG).

To my surprise, no one – not an administrator, teacher, or special education teacher – at the elementary school was familiar with OG methodology.

I soon learned that the OG method was not only in use at an adjacent elementary school in our district, the program had been established for years!

The principal at my son’s school, by her own admission, had never heard of Orton-Gillingam. The principal, who is also the chairman of the SBDM council; the individual who oversees programs, curriculum, and controls the school’s budget, could have never brought OG to the council for consideration because she had never been exposed to it. Other schools are not obligated to share program information – successes or failures.

I believe this lack of communication was a direct result of SBDM councils.  Where countywide oversight would align the educational resources for the entire district, the silo effect created by SBDM effectively denied my son and other children an appropriate education.

As parent representatives, we do not receive training on curriculum, nor do we know the multitude of programs readily available to children. And at the end of the day, the three teachers are not willing to challenge their employer. Thus creating a dysfunction at the expense of our children.

It is also not a requirement for the principal, who presides over the council to reside within the district.  Of the principals I have served with, I have not encountered one that resided within the same county, let alone the district; yet, they are responsible for managing our tax dollars.

These duties and more should be the responsibility of the superintendent and school board members who can and should be held accountable by the voters and taxpayers of that district.  The SBDM council is not accountable to the voter or the taxpayer.

Our local school board is now very quick to dismiss any parental inquiries from the district level, and direct them to the localized SBDM councils.  No statement echoes more frequently than “That is an SBDM issue.” Parents seeking answers are frequently trapped in bureaucracy, created by the divide between the school board and SBDM.  To appeal a decision made by their local SBDM, they approach the board, which in turn, sends them back to the SBDM.

Kentucky State Senator, John Schickel has sponsored SB 135 to put the responsibility of public school education back in the hands of the superintendent and elected school board members.

Call your legislator and voice your support of SB 135.


Phyllis Sparks

SBDM Parent Representative-Walton Verona Elem., Gray Middle, and Ryle High School. Commonwealth Institute of Parent Leadership (CIPL) graduate 2009, Vice, Past President of the Kentucky Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Vice Chair of the Boone County Republican Party and recently elected Boone County Magistrate.


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