Interim Education Commissioner Calls For State Takeover Of Kentucky's Largest School District

Apr 30, 2018

Interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis.
Credit education.ky.gov

Kentucky’s interim commissioner of education has released an audit recommending that the state take over Louisville’s public school system.

The state board of education will have final say on whether to approve interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’ request.

In a summary of the audit’s findings, Lewis said that the district has “deep-seated organization and cultural challenges.”

“The current state of JCPS is not the fault of any one leader or group. Instead, under the leadership of many and over a long period of time, serious challenges emerged and in many cases were permitted to fester,” Lewis wrote.

“The findings of the audit make it clear that for some time many children in JCPS have neither been protected nor served well. I am confident that we can work together under the state management model to create and implement needed systems for compliance, monitoring and continuous improvement.”

The district will have the chance to appeal the recommendation before the state board makes a final decision.

Lewis did not recommend that the state appoint a manager to oversee Jefferson County Public Schools.

Instead, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio would be left in charge of daily operations of the district, though he would be required to meet weekly with deputy education commissioner Kelly Foster for “monitoring purposes.”

During a news conference on Monday, Pollio said he disagreed with Lewis’ recommendation for a takeover.

“Our board, I think took bold steps and actions to make sure that we improved this district. And I think part of that was bringing me on board. And we have made significant progress in 10 months,” Pollio said. “We have assertively moved to improve this district in the past 10 months. I don’t think we’ve hidden from any of the problems that we’ve had.”

Lewis said that if his recommendation for a takeover is approved that the elected Jefferson County school board would only serve in an “advisory capacity.”

The move comes after a leadership shakeup at the state board of education two weeks ago when Gov. Matt Bevin filled seven vacancies on the board, giving his appointees full control.

One of the new board’s first actions was to announce that former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt would resign from his position two years before his contract was up.

The recommended takeover comes after a top-to-bottom audit first announced more than a year ago by former commissioner Pruitt.

At the time, Pruitt released a preliminary review of the district’s management that revealed a lack of support in the district’s worst-performing schools, underreporting of student seclusion and restraint, and that black students lagged behind other students academically and got suspended more.

The audit released by Lewis’ backed up many of Pruitt’s initial findings, saying the district inadequately manages instruction of students, doesn’t adequately use its bonding authority to fund facility projects, underreports instances of restraint and seclusion and placed non-certified instructors in positions that required certification.

Deputy Education Commissioner Kelly Foster will be in charge of leading a team of state education officials to produce a corrective action plan.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said the takeover would be a bad decision.

“It takes away local control and accountability from the school district and puts it in the hands of an appointee who doesn’t answer to anyone in our community and doesn’t understand our schools and students,” McKim said. “Ultimately what we need from the state is support and resources, not a takeover.”

Kumar Rashad, a math resource teacher in JCPS, also voiced concern with the proposed takeover.

“Education will be put into the hands of the people who don’t have the best interest of us in mind. Because you can’t have the best interest of us in mind if you do not know us. And that’s the problem,” Rashad said.