by Chris Harris
Somerset Independent Schools will be striking back against their neighbors in the county by pursuing legal action regarding contracts for non-resident pupils.
On Tuesday, the Somerset Board of Education voted unan-imously to retain legal counsel with the goal of making an appeal to the Kentucky Commissioner of Education.
Two board members — Gretchen Cole and Sharon Brown — were out of town and did not vote. The remaining board members — Scott Gulock, Jeff Perkins and Elaine Wilson — were all in favor of the decision.
In mid-January, the Pulaski County School Board approved a contract that would disallow any students living within the boundaries of the county district to attend school in the Somerset Independent district, unless they were siblings with a student that was already enrolled at one of the other systems. This would be applicable for the upcoming 2014-15 school year. In prior years, Somerset has been allowed 240 county territory students.
Last year, Pulaski made a similar change with K-8 Science Hill, another local independent district, and drafted a similar contract with them again for 2014-15.
In mid-February, the Somerset School board opted to not approve the contract submitted by the county under the new terms.
While Science Hill made a similar decision earlier this month, their immediate response was to compose a new contract on their terms to send back to Pulaski. Somerset’s approach, however, will be to take the conflict to education commissioner’s office so it can be resolved by a higher authority.
Dr. Terry Holliday is the current Commissioner of Education for Kentucky.
“I’m anticipating it to be as soon as possible,” said Somerset Superintendent Boyd Randolph of the process of choosing a legal representative.
Typically, the Somerset school board uses the services of local attorneys John Prather Jr. and Winter Huff. However, Randolph expects they may hire another firm for this specific matter.
“It’s a series of circumstances combined together: the schedules of our usual counsel combined with the possibility of hiring a counsel who is experiences in these matters already,” said Randolph. “Our usual counsel can be quite capable. It’s simply a matter of scheduling and things like that. There’s a pretty tight window to get this done because of the administrative hearing process that’s necessary to go through.”
Randolph expects to start on the appeal process “very soon,” which begins with him initiating it via a letter to the commissioner. Randolph said he could do so before a counsel is selected, but “I would prefer to have counsel involved just to make sure all legal perspectives are reviewed carefully before we present it.”
When asked for comment on the decision of the Somerset Board of Education, Pulaski County Superintendent Steve Butcher said, “That’s fine. Their board can choose to do that.”
Butcher has maintained that the county system’s enrollment numbers have been stagnant in recent years while Somerset and Science Hill have grown, and hopes to boost the county’s enrollment by slowing the amount of their territorial students going to other school districts.
“We’ll sort through that,” added Randolph of the appeal, “and see what happens.”