by Allison Ross, Louisville Courier Journal –
Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis says one JCPS school is disciplining students in a room that is essentially a “dungeon” Sam Upshaw Jr., Louisville Courier Journal
The state has offered a settlement to Jefferson County Public Schools to potentially avoid a contentious takeover of the 101,000-student district.
Kentucky interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told the Courier Journal on Monday that he gave JCPS a “first attempt at a settlement agreement” on July 16 and met a few days later with JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and board Chairwoman Diane Porter to discuss his proposal.
Lewis on Monday declined to release a copy of his one-page proposed settlement, citing legal concerns, but he said he suggested “enhanced oversight” rather than full state management of Kentucky’s largest school district.
His approach would give the state “veto authority” over some JCPS programs without taking full management away from the district’s elected board, he said.
Lewis said he is open to feedback or suggested changes from JCPS but has so far gotten no response. He said he set an Aug. 1 deadline with the district to agree to the settlement.
JCPS spokeswoman Allison Martin said that “the district is in the process of reviewing what was presented.” She said the Kentucky Department of Education asked for any recommendations and suggestions and said JCPS is “currently in that process.”
Porter said the board is working to have a clear understanding of the settlement offer. She said she thinks it’s worth having a conversation to “see how and if we can move forward with the superintendent leading the work and the board functioning as it was elected to do.”
Porter noted that “this could go on a long time. Is it fair to our teachers and staff to wait this long without an answer?”
Lewis said he wanted staff, parents and the community to have some stability as school starts instead of having to deal with a drawn-out hearing in which the state Board of Education would decide whether the state should take over JCPS.
“We can start working on remedying deficiencies instead of spending months battling it out,” Lewis said of his settlement offer.
The district resumes classes Aug. 15.
In April, Lewis called for the state to take over management of the district, citing an audit that noted concerns that included physical restraint of students, poor achievement results and issues with the student assignment plan.
Lewis’ takeover recommendation came two weeks after he was named interim commissioner, and it was met with a backlash from students and teachers. Several JCPS board members said they would fight the takeover attempt in court, if necessary.
Still, others in the community said they supported a takeover because of perceived racial inequities.
The recommendation would give Lewis authority over JCPS’ finances, operations and other responsibilities. Lewis has previously said he’d relegate the Jefferson County Board of Education to an advisory role and have Pollio continue to handle day-to-day operations but report weekly to the state.
JCPS’ board voted unanimously in May to appeal Lewis’ recommendation, and the final decision would be up to the 11-member state Board of Education. Hearings in the appeal are set to begin in September and will be held on 12 nonconsecutive days, ending in early November.
Any settlement agreement would have to go to the state board for approval, Lewis said. The board next meets Aug. 2, which is one reason Lewis said he set the Aug. 1 deadline for settlement talks. He said he has not spoken with any state board members about his settlement proposal.
Lewis’ “enhanced oversight” proposal does not fall into any of the outcomes of the audit laid out under Kentucky law.
Under the proposal, the JCPS board would not be relegated to an advisory capacity, he said. He said the state would work with the district to create corrective action plans and would have extra oversight and “veto authority” over areas that the state found in the audit to have key deficiencies.
Lewis declined to detail all the areas that the proposal laid out for enhanced management. But noting that the audit brought up some concerns about special education, he said he proposes the state have final say over policies, hiring, training or other moves related to that issue.
Lewis said that his proposal would also have the state conduct another audit in the fall of 2019 and that the results of that audit would determine the level of future state involvement.
Lewis said he hopes to avoid the hearing over his state recommendation, saying he’d rather start working with the district instead of fighting over control.
“We’re on the brink of a process that would not be good for JCPS or the community,” Lewis said.