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In an excerpt from his inaugural speech, the Kentucky governor emphasized teamwork between both sides of the aisle.
Louisville Courier Journal

FRANKFORT — In what could spell the end for Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, a judge ruled late Wednesday that Gov. Andy Beshear’s newly appointed state education board is free to meet.

In issuing his ruling, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate denied a request for a temporary restraining order preventing the Kentucky Board of Education’s new members from meeting Thursday morning. 

The new board members are scheduled to meet for the first time at 10 a.m. Their agenda focuses on one task: Firing and replacing Lewis.

Beshear did not break state law when re-creating the Kentucky Board of Education with new members through executive order, Wingate said. 

Limiting a governor’s power to reorganize boards “would cripple any sitting governor’s ability to effectively govern,” Wingate wrote in his opinion. 

Bart Greenwald, the attorney for the ousted board members, said he would immediately appeal. It is unclear if he has done so yet. 

As for how far he’s willing to take the case, Greenwald said earlier Wednesday, “All the way to the Supreme Court.”

“I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years and I’ve never actually said that,” he added. ” … We’re willing to go all the way.”

Wingate wrote that Beshear has the ability to temporarily reorganize Kentucky boards — including the Kentucky Board of Education.

Under state law, lawmakers will have to approve Beshear’s move during the upcoming legislative session. If they don’t, the board would revert to how it was before the executive order.

The ousted members, each appointed by former Gov. Matt Bevin, claimed Beshear broke state law by removing them before their terms ended — and without citing just cause for their removal. 

Wingate disagreed, ruling Beshear was acting within his power as governor. 

Beshear issued a statement praising the ruling.

 “On my first day in office, I replaced the Kentucky Board of Education because we must have a board and commissioner that value public education,” he said. “Today, in his order, Judge Wingate pointed out that the Supreme Court has already ruled that a governor has this authority. Let’s move together as one Commonwealth to commence a national search for the very best commissioner of education.”

Gary Houchens, one of the 10 ousted board members suing Beshear over their removal, called the precedent at stake “enormous.”

“A generation ago, the framers of the Kentucky Education Reform Act had the good sense to create an independent board that does not answer directly to the governor,” Houchens said. “And they did that for good reason.”

If Beshear’s recent action stands — which he accomplished through an executive order — “you’re just going to have every governor, at the beginning of their term, just replace (the board),” Greenwald said earlier Wednesday..

At that point, the board might as well not exist, Houchens said. “But that’s not the system we created for Kentucky.” 

Thursday’s meeting agenda for the new board centers on potentially dismissing Lewis, but also includes chances to talk about appointing an acting chief and launching a national search for a permanent replacement. 

Lewis can be fired without cause, but his contract requires a 90-day notice for termination. He has said he plans on serving out his term, but it is possible the new board will negotiate an earlier exit. 

Mandy McLaren: 502-582-4525; [email protected]; Twitter: @mandy_mclaren. Reach Olivia Krauth at [email protected] or 502-582-4471, and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth. Support strong local journalism by subscribing: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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