This post has been updated.
Two groups representing Jefferson County stakeholders are asking to intervene in the hearing between Jefferson County Public Schools and the state.
Louisville’s chapter of the League of Women Voters, representing voters, and Dear JCPS, representing parents and teachers, separately filed petitions to intervene in the appeal process, which has been tied up in negotiations for the past few weeks. Both argue that the Kentucky Board of Education is interfering in residents’ citizenship by removing them by potentially reducing the locally elected school board to an advisory capacity.
Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’ initially recommended that the state take over the district, reducing the locally elected school board to an advisory role. The League of Women Voters believes Jefferson County residents “will have lost their rights in any effort by the KBE to takeover JCPS,” the petition said.
“Regardless of the problems of the Jefferson County Public Schools, voting citizens can and do hold the JCBE accountable,” the league document said. “The KBE cannot be held accountable to the voting citizens and those citizens and their children will suffer irreparable harm should KBE interfere with the voting rights of these Jefferson County citizens.”
A Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment Friday night. A JCPS spokeswoman did not comment. Darren Embry, KBE’s special counsel for the JCPS hearing, said the board does not comment on pending matters.
“The League is opposed to a total takeover of JCPS by the state because it sets aside our duly elected school board,” league chapter president Pat Murrell said in an email Monday. “This thwarts democracy.”
The league’s petition, signed by Murrell, criticizes the state board’s lack of understanding of the district. The state doesn’t have a plan to help with poverty or segregated housing in the district, Murrell wrote.
“It is obvious that the KBE shows no knowledge of the complexity of any of the issues of JCPS and its students, nor any understanding of the fabric of the community,” the document said. “The JCBE and the voting citizens of Jefferson County know, and understand these issues, particularly as they relate to the problems of JCPS.”
The petition from Dear JCPS agrees, adding that district parents and students are the ones who will be impacted by district policies and should have a say in who represents them on the board tasked with approving them.
“Progress for JCPS students could be harmed by unelected, unfamiliar outsiders imposing new top-down solutions before recent reforms have been given a fair chance to work,” its petition said. “No one has a monopoly on truth, but those who live in and work inside this system have the experience and know the most about it.”
The state board, which has multiple charter school advocates, is “stacked heavily in favor of long-time known charter school and school privatization,” Dear JCPS argues.
Dear JCPS has been vocal against a takeover since before the recommendation, contending it would make it easier to bring charter schools into the district and would reduce local stakeholder influence in the school system. The state board, which now has a number of charter school advocates on it, has an “agenda,” their petition asserts.
“The prospect of a hostile takeover from a remote, unelected state board imposing charter schools and various privatization measures on a population opposed to such developments is a key issue which must be considered,” Dear JCPS asserts.
A petition for intervention allows for a judgment to protect that party’s rights in a legal setting.
JCPS appealed the takeover recommendation in May. The district and the state have been trying to negotiate a settlement since mid-July, potentially avoiding a state hearing. The hearing will continue as planned, beginning Sept. 10, if they cannot reach an agreement.
The school board sent the state its latest counteroffer Saturday morning. Anticipating a response from Lewis on Monday, the board will meet again Monday night.
“I understand that sometimes people want the immediate answer,” the board chairwoman Diane Porter said Friday night after an hour closed session meeting. “This is too important to not take our time to do it correctly.”
As negotiations continue, Dear JCPS has planned multiple small rallies and email-writing events, asking local school board members to not take a settlement and let things play out in a hearing.
The league spoke against a takeover soon after Lewis’ initial recommendation, calling a locally elected school board the “backbone and foundation to maintain a public school system that is vital to our democracy.”