After a shakeup of Kentucky’s Board of Education last week, conservative groups are pushing for the state to intervene in the management of Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district.
Wayne Lewis, the interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, is expected to release an extensive 14-month audit of the district soon. The audit could include recommendations the state assume control of the district’s operations.
And that’s supported by some, including Jerry Stephenson, a member of the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition. He said he wants the state to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the local teachers’ union.
"The union is trying to get that board to circumvent what’s good for our children," Stephenson said. "It’s all about the union, all about the adults. It’s time for somebody to start looking out for what’s best for the children."
Takeover Or Reforms?
Jefferson County Public Schools has long struggled to keep up with state and national performance averages.
Jim Waters, president of the Bowling Green-based libertarian think tank Bluegrass Institute, said the district hasn’t been able to adequately address the problem.
"I think with the new leadership at the Kentucky Department of Education and the new board members, I think there’s an urgency there that hasn’t been there before," Waters said.
Brent McKim is president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, the teachers union. He said despite an uptick in public school funding during this year’s budget, schools still lack the dollars necessary to support chronically poor students.
"Some of our schools are really struggling to overcome all of that. That’s why we need the extra resources and support from the state that we simply haven’t been receiving," McKim said.
McKim said a state takeover wouldn’t address those issues.
"It would mean a loss of local control and our local school board members," McKim said. "Our voters elect here in the community understand what students need to be successful in schools much better than a political appointee from Frankfort."
On Tuesday morning, two Republican state lawmakers from Louisville issued a statement calling for the state Board of Education to not rush into a takeover.
"To that end, we call on the Kentucky Board of Education to first work with our duly elected School Board and new Superintendent rather than seek to supplant them. We strongly support local control of our public schools and believe improvement is best achieved with the Kentucky Board of Education and JCPS as partners. We are proud of our teachers and public schools, and we are optimistic that such a joint effort will improve our schools and, most importantly, better serve our students," Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. Jason Nemes wrote in the statement.
Audit Expected Soon
Interim education commissioner Lewis is expected to visit the district on Wednesday and Thursday. He said he plans to release the audit and recommendations by the end of the month.
Lewis was appointed to the position last week after the ouster of former commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who had two years left on his four-year contract.
Pruitt resigned under pressure after Gov. Matt Bevin appointed seven members to the board of education, including former Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, a charter schools advocate and longtime critic of Jefferson County Public Schools.
Pruitt was hired in 2015 by the board of education, which at the time was comprised entirely of appointees of former Gov. Steve Beshear.
After the recent changes, the board is now entirely comprised of Bevin appointees.