Bevin Weighs In On Possible Takeover Of JCPS, Calls For ‘Changes’

May 1, 2018

Governor Matt Bevin speaking to media after ceremonially signing a bill giving a tax break to the Breeders' Cup whenever it comes to Kentucky.
Credit Ryland Barton

Governor Matt Bevin says problems in Louisville’s public school system are so severe that “we have got to make changes.” Bevin’s comments come a day after the state’s top education official recommended a takeover of Kentucky’s largest school district.

On Monday, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis released a 90-page audit that recommended the state intervene in the management of Jefferson County Public Schools due to under-performing schools, racial disparities in student performance and abuse of students.

After a news conference Tuesday, Bevin didn’t explicitly say he supports a takeover and that he would leave it up to Lewis and the state board of education to make the decision.

“I mean we have got a less than stellar end result right now,” Bevin said. “And we have too many children, especially so many of our underprivileged kids coming from the west end of Louisville that are falling farther and farther behind.”

Lewis started his job two weeks ago after a shakeup on the state board of education. Bevin filled seven vacancies on the board, giving his appointees full control for the first time.

One of the new board’s first actions was to force out former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt — 18 months before his contract was up — and hire Lewis.

On Monday, Lewis recommended that the state take over management of the 101,000-student district, relegating the elected school board to an advisory role.

The state board of education would have to approve Lewis’ recommendation for a takeover to happen. JCPS could appeal, triggering a public hearing before the board.

Lewis said if the takeover were approved, he would leave JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio in charge of daily management, but he would have to report weekly to a state official.

Bevin said that Pollio — who has been leading the district for a little less than a year — has done a “phenomenal job” and that it was a “smart move” to have him implement the state’s changes, if a takeover is approved.

“This is [a takeover] that’s going to use more of the people already in place it would seem than has historically been the case,” Bevin said.

Acting House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said that it was “vitally important” for Pollio to remain a part of the district’s management if the state takes over.

“If he is allowed to continue his work with the additional assistance from the Department of Education then it could be very positive. If on the other hand it’s a situation where they come in and stifle what he’s been able to do and the camaraderie he’s been able to build and the team he’s been able to put together then I’m not so sure it is,” Osborne said.

Teacher advocates and many Louisville public officials quickly protested the potential takeover on Monday.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, a Democrat, said he would look into challenging the takeover in court if it were approved.

“As a Constitutional public officer, I will explore every legal option available to oppose the Bevin administration’s overreach and attempted takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools,” O’Connell wrote in a statement.

“I will work to protect the interests of Jefferson County citizens, to the extent that I am able to participate, in what, undoubtedly, will be future court proceedings.”