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Concerns about CRT could ease changes to school councils

Next year’s legislative session might just be the year for changes to school-based decision-making councils long sought by district superintendents and school boards.

State Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, has advanced bills three times in recent years that would make the tweaks, but those measures have failed to win passage in the Kentucky House.

“I think the legislation this year holds even extra urgency because the eyes of so many parents and so many citizens right now are on our school system with questions around curriculum and other things,” Schickel told members of the Interim Joint Education Committee during its meeting Nov. 15.

The legislation is still in the works, but Schickel said it would give superintendents the final say when it comes to selecting school principals and curriculum – after consultation with school-based councils.

Schickel told the Daily News in a follow-up phone call that he plans to file the legislation during the first week of next year’s lawmaking session, which is set to kick off Jan. 4.

The legislation’s re-emergence coincides with parents’ renewed interest in how schools make curriculum decisions – fueled in large part by concerns around critical race theory, even though it is not formally taught in Kentucky schools.

Asked if the legislation would effectively limit parent involvement in curriculum decisions – who currently help make those decisions by serving on school-based councils – Schickel told the Daily News it would not. Compared to teacher representation on the school councils, Schickel said, parents are in the minority.

The Kentucky Department of Education said the administrative structure for these school councils includes two parents, three teachers and the principal or administrator of the school.

Parents and the public, Schickel said, “really don’t have a say at all through the site-based council because they are a minority.”

Frustrated parents often show up at school board meetings with questions or concerns about their school’s curriculum, Schickel said, but those decisions are outside of board members’ control.

His legislation would place those decisions in the hands of the school district’s superintendent, and by extension, its local board of education, Schickel said.

Schickel was joined at the Nov. 15 meeting by Kentucky School Boards Association President Davonna Page, who also serves on Russellville Independent’s Board of Education. Page has also previously served on a school-based council.

Speaking in support of the changes, Page told the Daily News on Thursday that the legislation would help school districts offer consistent instruction across their districts, an objective that is thwarted by the current, decentralized approach Kentucky currently uses.

This would especially help students who are housing insecure and who often change schools, even during the school year. Instead of starting over when they change schools, Page said, students could pick up immediately where they left off.

“Students have become more transient in recent years across Kentucky,” Page said. “If a curriculum can be more consistent across a district, that’s better for students who move between schools.”

Page made a point of saying that she does not want to cut anyone out of the decision-making process, instead favoring a more “collaborative” approach that includes principals, parents and other school leaders together.

“I would like to see the district level leaders involved in curriculum planning and alignment,” Page said, adding it would help streamline instruction not just across schools, but even across grade levels.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Chamber convenes partners to tackle workforce issue

Trying to tackle an outsized problem, local business and education leaders have come up with a super-sized plan.

Bringing together local government officials, educators, business leaders and workforce development professionals, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce on Monday kicked off a plan to bring all those stakeholders together to address what has become a national issue: a declining workforce participation rate.

“The chamber has been focusing on talent for at least a decade,” chamber President and CEO Ron Bunch said to open the meeting at the chamber’s headquarters on College Street. “We now find ourselves in a place where we have some great programs built.

“We want to come together collectively to address this issue. The problem is different from what we’ve encountered in the past. It’s going to take all of us to transform how we deal with it.”

Workforce participation has been declining for years, and that decline has only been heightened by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Defined as the percentage of working-age adults either working or looking for work, the national labor force participation rate has fallen from 67.3% in 2000 to 61.6% today.

The trend is more pronounced in Kentucky, where the participation rate has consistently trailed the national average and is now among the lowest in the nation at 56.3%.

Such statistics haven’t escaped the attention of South Central Workforce Development Board President Jon Sowards, who said the low number of people earning paychecks led to a change in the workforce board’s annual workforce summit this year.

Instead of one large gathering, the workforce board held a “town hall tour” that consisted of four meetings across the region that were focused on workforce participation.

“This problem is real,” Sowards said. “Everybody is hurting for labor right now.”

Sowards said there’s no single culprit and cited lack of child care and transportation, the loss of baby boomers in the workforce, the opioid crisis and changing attitudes toward work as factors contributing to the workforce participation decline.

“Myriad issues have intersected at one time,” Sowards said. “There are no silver bullets to fix the problem.”

Although he doesn’t claim to have a solution, Sowards said the workforce board has come up with what he called “three distinct lines of effort” to combat what the Kentucky Chamber Foundation has identified as a “workforce crisis.”

Through a campaign it’s calling “Respect Works,” the workforce board is attempting to inspire workforce participation.

“We want to mobilize community influencers to talk about the benefits associated with work,” Sowards said.

A second effort of the workforce board is designed to influence local workforce participation through what Sowards called “pathways and programs.”

“We want to review how we place in the workforce high school and college students and transitioning members of the military,” Sowards said. “Everybody has a hand in this.”

Finally, Sowards said the workforce board is focusing on recruiting employees from outside the region.

“Perhaps we can recruit Western Kentucky University graduates who have moved away,” he said. “We’re also focusing on our international community. A little bit of marketing can bring more of those folks back into the workforce.”

Sowards admits that he and his staff “don’t have all the answers,” but he wants the workforce board to take a leading role in solving a problem that he sees as a possible roadblock to further economic growth.

“We’re in the midst of an evolving economy,” he said. “If we can get the workforce participation rate up, we can continue to attract high-paying jobs.”

Bunch and Sowards seem to have the support of local educators and government leaders as they try to find solutions to the workforce issue.

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon promised to make workforce participation his primary focus during his final year in office.

“Workforce development is important if we’re going to continue to grow and make our economy the best in the nation,” Buchanon said.

Education leaders from K-12 through higher education are also on board, saying they’re looking at ways to better connect students with employers.

“We in education have to be willing to change,” said Phillip Neal, president of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. “We need to focus on careers more than on degrees.”

A chamber of commerce news release said the business and education partners involved in addressing workforce participation will meet monthly and develop strategies that will be implemented beginning in 2022.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Local groups offering free Thanksgiving meals

Churches, restaurants and other organizations are working to ensure all families will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

Hundreds of free meals will be given to needy individuals this week thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers.

Two downtown churches – State Street United Methodist Church and First Christian Church of Bowling Green – are working together to deliver and hand out meals Thursday.

While they will not hold their annual Thanksgiving dinner in-person, carryout and deliveries will be available for the general public.

First Christian Church Associate Minister the Rev. Kyle McDougall said the two churches will make nearly 1,000 meal deliveries on Thanksgiving.

“First of all, I think it is important as downtown churches we support each other,” McDougall said. “That’s really nice that we support each other despite us being different denominations. There is just a lot of people who need food, and there is a lot of food insecurity in Bowling Green.

“It’s just important for people to have that meal,” she said. “We have everything anyone could want for Thanksgiving. It gets a lot of people involved. A lot of people like to sign up and do the food prep. It’s a good atmosphere.”

Essity, a global hygiene and health company with manufacturing operations in Bowling Green, will provide 300 meals as part of the churches’ efforts.

McDougall said Essity donated $1,000 toward the meal and that extra funding helped cover the higher costs of meat this year.

“They helped out last year, and we are grateful for that funding,” she said. “We planned for 1,300 meals to be given out this year. I want to say thank you to all the volunteers in the community for supporting this meal for several years.”

State Street United Methodist Church Director of Discipleship & Missions Jennifer Dickinson said those interested in picking up a meal can enter the church through the glass doors on East 11th Avenue.

“We will have signs directing everyone,” Dickinson said. “It’s really neat. It still amazes me how many people step out to help on Thanksgiving Day. We were kind of low on volunteers, and it was unbelievable how quickly people responded when we asked.”

The carryout option will be available from 10:30 a.m. to noon at State Street United Methodist Church.

Lisa’s Fifth Street Diner and Teresa’s Restaurant will also be providing free meals to the public on Thanksgiving.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, anyone is free to visit Lisa’s at 430 Center St. for a Thanksgiving meal that includes turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, dessert and a drink.

Around 25 volunteers will be present on Thanksgiving to make enough meals for nearly 400 people who are expected to stop by.

“Down here where we are at, you see so many homeless people,” owner Lisa Parker said. “Every day we are feeding homeless people. It breaks my heart. I just can’t stand to see people hungry and along. But this is not just for homeless people. It’s for anyone.”

More information on Fifth Street Diner can be found at www.restaurantji.com/ky/bowling-green/fifth-street-diner-/.

Teresa’s Restaurant at 509 Gordon Ave. will be offering a Thanksgiving meal buffet-style from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Manager Keri McGuffey said they are preparing to feed around 300 people.

Warren County Public Schools delivered 260 turkeys and 300 food boxes this week to local families.

“Obviously, we want to give all of our children and even playing field,” WCPS spokeswoman Lauren Thurmond said. “And it’s important to reach out to our families around the holidays and give them food and resources they might need.”

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

BG man arraigned in sex abuse case

A Bowling Green man was arraigned Monday in two cases, including one in which he is accused of sexually assaulting two unconscious women.

A not guilty plea was entered in Warren Circuit Court for Tanner Elliott Bowles, 28, who is charged in one indictment with two counts of first-degree sodomy and unlawful use of electronic means originating or received within the commonwealth to induce a minor to engage in sexual activity.

In a separate case, Bowles pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, first-degree possession of a controlled substance and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence.

The sodomy charges stem from a Bowling Green Police Department investigation that led to Bowles’ arrest Aug. 12.

The investigation was launched Aug. 2 when a woman came to BGPD headquarters and reported Bowles had assaulted her months earlier, an arrest citation said.

The woman told police she ingested “large amounts of cocaine and heroin” around April 20 and that the last thing she remembered from that date was having her head down on a table with vomit around her mouth, according to court records.

The next thing she remembered after that was being at Bowles’ residence with him sodomizing her, she reportedly told police.

“The victim also located multiple videos showing Bowles having anal sex with a female who is clearly unconscious,” BGPD Detective Alex Wright said in the arrest citation. “That victim has also been identified and confirmed she has no recollection of sexual intercourse with Bowles.”

Police spoke with the second woman, who reported having used methamphetamine at Bowles’ residence on multiple occasions and waking up the next morning naked with no recollection of anything after using meth, court records said.

In Bowles’ arrest citation, Wright wrote that he obtained video of another unknown woman who appears to be unconscious.

City police located Bowles on Aug. 12 at Louisville Road and Tobacco Road and detained him.

He agreed to be questioned and denied any sexual contact around April 20 with the woman who brought the original complaint, his citation said.

The other case has to do with a July 28 incident in which a vehicle driven by Bowles was involved in a crash at Veterans Memorial Lane and Clay Street.

A Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy who arrived at the scene made contact with Bowles and suspected him of being impaired.

While Bowles performed field sobriety tests, another deputy found a pouch in the back seat that appeared to contain suspected methamphetamine residue and a counterfeit $100 bill under the driver’s seat, according to an arrest citation.

A pretrial conference for both cases is set for Feb. 7.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.