Wayne Lewis

Kentucky’s interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis issued a statement just before midnight on Tuesday taking issue with a media report that he is “backing down” from state management of Jefferson County Public Schools in his negotiations with the district, in addition to criticizing JCPS for “sharing the contents” of what he was told would be a confidential negotiation offer.

Lewis recommended a state takeover of JCPS in May that stripped the elected Jefferson County Board of Education of power, but in July proposed a settlement to the board that would delay complete state management for at least a year, though still giving it control over various aspects of the district, such as the student assignment plan. The board responded to Lewis’ offer on Friday, with the Kentucky Department of Education sending its reply back that same day.

On Tuesday, the Courier Journal reported the contents of Lewis’ newest proposed settlement and said the state “appears to be backing down on its demands,” as the offer gives JCPS more time to correct problems and only gives the state control over special education, early childhood education and the physical restraint or seclusion of students.

In his statement late Tuesday, Lewis said this CJ report “mischaracterized the nature” of KDE’s negotiations with JCPS, adding that “I stand by my initial recommendation for state management, as the findings of the audit are so severe that state assistance would not provide the department the leverage needed to ensure the safety and well-being of students, particularly early learners and exceptional learners.”

Lewis went on to state that his first settlement offer was “an effort to avoid a protracted and ugly legal battle” that would take the rest of the year, then asserted that JCPS leaked what he thought was his confidential negotiation offer to the newspaper.

“It is first of all regrettable that JCPS would share the contents of what they stated to us was a confidential document,” stated Lewis. “It is also regrettable that the Courier Journal would characterize ongoing negotiations as KDE ‘backing down.’ With the safety of students in JCPS at stake, we have not and will not back down from the position that the department must play a role in the management of the district until the district can demonstrate the ability to implement corrective actions with fidelity across its many deficiencies.”

Asked about Lewis’ assertion that the district leaked a confidential document related to the negotiation, JCPS spokesman Daniel Kemp told Insider in an email that “we are unaware of how it was distributed to media members.”

Unless the two sides come to an agreement on a settlement, the appeal of JCPS to Lewis’ recommendation will receive a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education on Sept. 10.

This story has been updated with Kemp’s comment.

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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]