By Wayne Lewis, Ph.D., interim commissioner, Kentucky Department of Education
Following my recommendation to place Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in state management, some school leaders, teachers and parents outside Louisville have asked, “Will our district be next?”
The simple answer is “no,” unless there exists “a pattern of a significant lack of effectiveness and efficiency in the governance or administration of the district,” as required by law.
Significant managerial concerns must be present in a school district to reach the point in which the commissioner recommends a management review, and significant deficiencies must be found in the review to lead a commissioner to recommend a management audit. Items that rise to the level of reviews and audits include child safety concerns, financial issues and low student performance.
The General Assembly passed legislation (KRS 158.785) in 1985 that required KDE to establish a program for management improvement services for school districts that lack efficiency or effectiveness in administration. Subsequently, the Kentucky Board of Education promulgated a regulation (703 KAR 3:205) outlining that process.
The path to state management is long.
First, data collected by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) must indicate significant deficiencies.
Next, an on-site review assesses whether these deficiencies “indicate the presence of critically ineffective or inefficient management.” If so, the KDE commissioner orders a comprehensive management audit to examine a district’s planning, operational support, fiscal management, personnel administration and instructional management.
Finally, the commissioner reviews the management audit findings to determine whether it establishes “a pattern of a significant lack of effectiveness and efficiency in the governance or administration of the district.” Only then does the commissioner recommend state assistance or state management.
Once a recommendation is made, a school district must decide whether to accept the recommendation or request a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education, which must approve any action taken.
After hearing all of the evidence, the state board decides whether action is warranted, and if so, whether state management or state assistance is the appropriate mechanism to correct any deficiencies.
JCPS has experienced issues relating to student safety, fiscal management, noncompliance with state and federal laws, and student performance for many years. With more than 100,000 students in the JCPS district, these concerns can no longer be ignored. The future of those children and the commonwealth is at stake.
My predecessor initiated this process in 2016, when KDE employees discovered deficiencies in how JCPS reported data related to the physical restraint and seclusion of students. More than 30 significant deficiencies found in the initial review led him to call for a management audit of the district that lasted more than one year.
In many cases, a management review conducted by KDE staff will lead to corrective action plans in one or two areas of concern without the need for an audit.
In Menifee, Breathitt — and most recently Jefferson — counties, the reviews highlighted the need for a comprehensive management audit. In each case, the audit findings were so egregious that the commissioner recommended state management to the Kentucky Board of Education, which approved state management for both Menifee and Breathitt counties.
If a school district is declared a state-assisted or state-managed district, according to regulation 703 KAR 3:205, the district must create and implement an improvement plan that identifies the district’s deficiencies and the corrective actions necessary to improve governance and administration.
The plan is submitted to the state board of education for its approval. Additionally, the statute limits state management to three years unless the Kentucky Board of Education extends the time following a review of a new management audit.
At present, Kentucky’s schools face many challenges. We are not yet assuring that all students meet minimum academic standards before being awarded a high school diploma. We are not yet preparing enough students to be successful in postsecondary education. We are not equipping enough students with the skills required to take good-paying jobs currently available in Kentucky and the surrounding region. But most concerning of all is that some of our most vulnerable children in JCPS are being mistreated and adults are not being held accountable, as the audit found.
As interim commissioner of KDE, ensuring that our children have access to a high-quality education in a safe and nurturing environment where adults are held accountable is my absolute top priority.
I urge all school leaders, teachers and parents across the state to join me in condemning the mistreatment of children in our schools, whether it is in your district or across the state, and insist that every Kentucky school district hold adults accountable for serving our children well and treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve.