After months of working with the federal Head Start office to remedy allegations of abuse, JCPS has decided to instead relinquish funding.
The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted to give up the $15 million in federal Head Start funding, opting to move the 3- and 4-year-olds into the district’s own program. The Early Head Start program, which focuses on 2-year-olds, will be taken over by a yet-identified community partner.
Despite the district’s work to reduce abuse and improve incident reporting, officials indicated just one more incident could put JCPS at risk of losing the funding. Board member Chris Kolb asked if the change was a way to get ahead of Head Start and do things more on the district’s terms. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said it was.
“With any challenge comes opportunity,” Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman told the board before explaining the plan.
Pollio also noted the challenges with the program, saying the program is “trying to do too much.” Pollio said. Changing Head Start seats to regular early childhood seats could help increase kindergarten readiness, he said.
“Investing early is the best investment you can make,” Kolb said.
While the $15 million grant would be given up, it would only cost the district $8 million to take over the program due to cost reductions from combining programs. That money will come from the district’s general fund.
Before the vote, one community member told the board that the funding loss would be felt outside of the classroom, because Head Start helped families pay bills and find jobs. Losing the Head Start grant would cost several JCPS families comprehensive services that help them outside of the classroom, said the member, Sammy Jones.
“There is no clear-cut plan for these families,” Jones said. The district would most likely not be able to financially cover those services, Jones said. Later in the meeting, board Vice Chair Lisa Willner said those services would still be available, but just not through the federal Head Start program.
Representatives from the federal Head Start program did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment regarding the proposal.
An October report from the Administration of Family and Children uncovered a culture of abuse in the Jefferson County Head Start program, including 13 incidents of abuse in around seven months. Acting Head Start Director Ann Linehan said the findings made her “ill” during an October JCBE meeting.
“The types and frequency of the deficiencies revealed a systemic failure of management on many levels within the Jefferson County Board of Education (BOE) Head Start program,” the agency told Insider via email in October.
In response, the federal Head Start program threatened the local program with emergency suspension — the only program of 1,600 to receive such an offense. JCPS began implementing a corrective action plan, working with the federal Head Start office to remedy the situation.
Tentative budget passes
The board voted to pass the 2018-19 tentative budget, worth $1.6 billion. The budget could change by September due to changes in revenue, grants, tax rates and the teachers’ union agreement.
JCBE chairwoman Diane Porter said she would only vote for the budget if it provided funding for the implementation of the district’s new racial equity policy. Superintendent Marty Pollio said it did, so the budget passed unanimously.
As passed, and including the $8 million to switch over from Head Start, the budget has around $2 million in uncovered expenses, which will be covered by district reserve funds.
The district will have $68 million to spend on capital facilities projects, but specific projects haven’t been decided yet.
Speakers, protesters oppose state takeover
From calling the proposed state takeover a “power grab” to using students as pawns, community members and JCPS teachers vigorously opposed a state takeover in a rally and public statements to the board.
The JCBE announced it would request a hearing to challenge the recommended state takeover after an executive session Tuesday evening. Soon after, around 300 teachers rallied outside of JCPS central office in opposition of the takeover. Wearing red in support of education and holding #OurJCPS signs, they lined the side of Newburg Road, with several passers-by honking in support.
Several in crowd stuck around for the regular board meeting, leaving the main meeting room at standing room only and many getting left in an overflow room.
In the regular board meeting, multiple people spoke in favor of the locally elected school board. Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham said he and the chapter “vigorously” opposed the potential takeover. “Right-wing conservatives” are using JCPS students as pawns to bring back neighborhood schools and bring in charter schools, Cunningham said.
JCPS parent Rob Mattheu named multiple reasons he was against a state takeover, including political affiliations of interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and the state board of education.
“(Lewis’) biggest qualification seems to be being deeply tied to several members of the board that chose him via a shadowy network of political organizations and nonprofits created to support charter legislation,” Mattheu said. “His anger at being asked to express his plan for state takeover to elected representatives and that he’s aligned himself with Matt Bevin speaks volumes to his character.”
Near the end of board meeting, board members Chris Brady and Benjamin Gies said they had gone outside for the rally, and thanked the community for their support.
Despite the hearing being decided, action against a takeover is slated to continue. Walk-ins at multiple district schools were scheduled for Wednesday morning, and the teachers union is still collecting signatures for a petition against the takeover.