Kent Oyler, president & CEO of GLI

Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Kent Oyler emailed board members of the local chamber Tuesday evening to state that he had not advocated for the state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools as was recommended by the new education commissioner on Monday — despite Oyler’s statement that same day expressing support for the recommendation and hope that it would improve the school district.

Oyler’s original statement on Monday drew a backlash from the Louisville Democratic Party, whose chairman threatened to initiate a boycott of the chamber and the businesses it received funding from.

Commissioner Wayne Lewis released the long-awaited audit of JCPS on Monday afternoon, along with his recommendation to the Kentucky Board of Education that the state take over management of the district and remove the authority of its democratically elected school board.

Lewis also recommended that Superintendent Marty Pollio stay in office to implement changes directed by the state, though he will report weekly to the assistant commissioner and could be removed at any time if the commissioner is not pleased with the district’s progress.

Monday evening shortly after this announcement, GLI issued a statement from Oyler in which he indicated his support for Lewis’ recommendation and his hope that the commissioner’s plan would improve JCPS. He added that Pollio remaining in his job would “minimize confusion and disruption” for students as they finish out the current school year.

“GLI supports the placement of Superintendent Marty Pollio as the day-to-day manager of JCPS during the state takeover of the district,” stated Oyler, who added that “the audit clearly identified long-term issues within the administrative structures of JCPS and we are hopeful that this audit and the action plan recommended by Interim Commissioner Lewis will be the first step forward towards a better school system for all of the county’s students.”

Lewis’ recommendation of a state takeover that usurped the power of the local school board was panned by many Democrats in the city and across the state as a political move orchestrated by Gov. Matt Bevin, including Congressman John Yarmuth.

Mayor Greg Fischer stated Tuesday that he was “extremely disappointed” by this recommendation and urged the state board to reject it after the current 30-day review period.

Oyler’s statement on Monday drew harsh criticism the following day from the Louisville Democratic Party, whose chairman Russell Lloyd issued a statement warning organizations that “support this continuing War on Louisville” could result in a boycott — specifically singling out GLI.

“Let them know that you will not support them,” stated Lloyd. “Learn more about businesses which provide GLI funding on their website. Let those businesses know that your support for them depends on their support for our public schools.”

Several hours after the Courier Journal published a story Tuesday night about the party’s threat to GLI, Oyler sent an email to the chamber’s board members — obtained by Insider Louisville through a source — in which he argued that he and GLI had never advocated for state takeover or issued a statement expressing support for such a move.

Referring to his original statement that he included in the email, Oyler wrote that “we do not advocate for a state takeover and we reiterate our strong support for the retention of Dr. Marty Polio (sic) now and as the appointed state manager should a takeover be approved by the state’s Board of Education. GLI has never advocated publically (sic) or privately for a takeover and did not issue a statement that we approve of a takeover. We have repeatedly indicated our support for Dr. Pollio and the bold changes he is implementing to improve JCPS.”

“As you are well aware GLI supports local control and keeping decision making close to home,” wrote Oyler. “We also advocate for needed changes in the JCPS system and an increased focus on improved student outcomes, which is what the most recent state audit report is all about.”

Oyler referenced the “well-defined process for discussing the Commissioner’s recommendation that will play out over the next 30 days,” saying that “must be respected.” Stating that GLI “has worked very hard for years to support and advance JCPS,” he expressed his hope “that you will thoughtfully engage in this critical discussion.”

GLI’s spokeswoman told Insider that the chamber would not say anything else publicly on the matter “beyond what you have obtained in the apparently leaked email to our board.”

The sentiments in Oyler’s email were similar to those expressed by Bevin in a news conference Tuesday morning, in which he pushed back against those who said Lewis’ recommendations would take away local control of the district, instead highlighting the fact that Pollio was not removed and heaping praise upon the newly hired superintendent.

“I’m grateful for the fact that (Pollio will) continue to be a part of the solution,” said Bevin, adding that “the fact that he’ll be the guy implementing whatever changes take place” is “a smart move.”

However, Jefferson County Board of Education member Linda Duncan told Insider on Wednesday that she not only opposed the state takeover because it would take away power from their elected board, but because it would also place Pollio in a precarious situation in which he could be removed at any time by Lewis if he is not on board with his agenda.

“They dangled Marty out there to appease the public, but he is very vulnerable,” said Duncan.

In his news conference just after Lewis’ recommendations were released, Pollio said that he was glad the commissioner acknowledged the progress made by his administration since first being hired on an interim basis 10 months ago, but made a point to note that this was a “team effort” that included the members of the school board.

Pollio and the JCPS board members are seeking the advice of the district’s legal counsel on what steps they could take to respond to Lewis’ recommendations, and have 30 days to request a hearing before the state board to challenge the recommendation for a state takeover of the district.

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]