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Out of the rough: Is the business community pushing for Berman to get a mulligan on JCPS contract renewal?

by Terry Boyd

Dr. Sheldon Berman

(Editor’s note: This story was updated Saturday, January 8 at 8:30 a.m.)

Who says there are no second acts in American public life?

Insiders are telling Insider Louisville that Louisville business leaders are lobbying Jefferson County Board of Education members for a second vote on Dr. Sheldon Berman’s contract.

Can Berman even get a do-over on his contract as superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools?

The short answer is, yes, but ….

One of the five board members who voted against renewing Berman’s contract last November 11 would have to make a motion for a re-vote, then have it seconded by another nay-voter.

The crucial question is, who would be the board member(s) likely to flip, to make the motion for the recount? And is the “lobbying effort” much more than just the residue of what’s proving to have been a very divisive vote?

Insider Louisville was able to contact five of the seven school board members but few acknowledged being lobbied directly.

However, Larry Hujo, District 7 representative, stated in an email response to a query: “I know not only myself but other Board members have had a few people ask us to reconsider but I don’t believe anyone will change their mind.

“My decision has been made.”

Carmen Hickerson, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs for Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce, said Joe Reagan and David Jones, Jr., are planning to meet individually with school board members as the board moves forward with the search for Berman’s successor.

Reagan is GLI president and CEO. Jones is the former chairman of Humana Inc. and chairman of Chrysalis Ventures, a Louisville-based venture capital fund.

While Reagan and Jones disagree with the board’s decision to not renew Berman’s contract, they are not lobbying board members for a reversal, Hickerson said.

(Jones wrote a long opinion piece in the November 29 Courier-Journal stating that school board members scapegoated Berman after decades of decline and failures.)

Carol Haddad, District 6 representative, said she talked to a major business leader (we’re trying to contact him and confirm the conversation) in which the person expressed “that he was upset … disappointed by the vote.”

But Haddad added that the person did not formally ask her to rethink her vote.

Asked if she had considered changing her vote, Haddad said, “That’s not going to happen.”

She added that the business community “needs to move on if they want to be involved” in choosing a new superintendent.

Stephen Imhoff, who represents District 2, said he is “aware of that fact” that many business leaders would prefer that Berman stay. “Most of the business community would have rather we’d kept Berman,” Imhoff said.

Imhoff said that he hasn’t been lobbied personally: “They don’t have to call me. I’m one of the two (board members) who voted to keep him.”

Imhoff and Linda Duncan, District 5, voted to renew Berman’s contract.

The majority, led by Board of Education Chairwoman Debbie Wesslund, voted not to extend.

“It was too early (to not renew),” Imhoff said. “He needed to have time. We should have given him another contact.”

Duncan told Insider Louisville that she, like Imhoff, believes Berman’s contract should be renewed, and that politics, not his job performance, cost Berman his job.

Much of the discussion by the board of Berman’s tenure was heard in camera under rules adopted last year.

But instead of those closed-door discussions being candid debates over Berman’s measurable successes and failures, the discussions reverted to criticisms of Berman’s inflexibility over a student assignment plan that requires busing, Duncan said.

Imhoff acknowledged that a second vote, much less a reversal of the decision to terminate Berman’s contract, would be unprecedented. But it was unprecedented, he added, for the board not to renew a superintendent’s contract after just one term.

Chairwoman Wesslund acknowledged some business leaders expressed to her their unhappiness over the Berman contract vote, adding that she anticipated there might be a move for a second vote.

The fact is, five “very different people” from different parts of the city all voted not to renew Berman’s contract, Wesslund said. They voted after years of experience with Berman, not as an impulsive decision, she said.

“I don’t see any of those people changing their minds.”

(Editor’s note: Jefferson County Board of Education members who voted against Berman’s renewal were: Debbie Wesslund, District 3; Diane Porter, District 1; Joe Hardesty, District 4; Carol Ann Haddad, District 6; and Larry Hujo, District 7. Linda Duncan, District 5, and Steve Imhoff, District 2, voted to renew. The next school board meeting is schedule for January 10.)

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