Kentucky Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he plans to release the long-awaited management audit of Jefferson County Public Schools this month.
The audit, which could have far-reaching consequences for the local district, including the appointment of a state manager whose authority would supersede that of locally elected leaders, began in 2016.
Local education leaders have complained that the audit has taken a long time and that not having the results has hampered their ability to implement some corrective measures.
Lewis told Insider Friday evening that he has read the audit, plans to come to Louisville Wednesday and Thursday to visit some schools and talk to stakeholders including members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, and that he plans to release the audit by the end of the month. He said details of his Louisville visit had yet to be determined.
JCBE members Chris Kolb and Chris Brady told Insider Friday evening that they looked forward to talking with Lewis about the district. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio could not be reached immediately.
Lewis was appointed by the Kentucky Board of Education Tuesday after the sudden forced resignation of Commissioner Stephen Pruitt. Gov. Matt Bevin had appointed six new members to the 11-member board on Monday.
Local education officials have said that Pruitt planned to recommend only minor intervention in JCPS, and that likely was not enough to satisfy frequent JCPS critic Bevin, prompting him to effect Pruitt’s departure by reshuffling the board, which is the final authority over what happens after the audit.
Pruitt had declined to reveal what the audit recommends. Lewis told Insider that he could not talk about the contents of the audit, which was prompted in 2016 by the state uncovering deficiencies in the district’s reporting of data related to physical restraint and seclusion of students. It escalated early last year into a comprehensive investigation of JCPS management deficiencies.
Pruitt said recently that he was close to revealing his recommendation, but that he was still waiting for an analysis of the JCPS collective bargaining agreement. The KDE said Friday in a press release that “while the analysis will provide evidence for any needed improvements in the district, it will not factor into (Lewis’) recommendation.”
When the state board would take up that recommendation is unclear. It could schedule a special meeting or it could take up the issue in its next regularly scheduled meeting, June 7. However, the process also could be delayed by JCPS. After the audit findings are disclosed, the local district, per statute, has 30 days to accept the findings or request a formal hearing before the KBE. Local officials have said they would support filing an appeal or even take legal action if the KBE recommends a state takeover.
Lewis’ priorities include literacy, alternative approaches
Lewis, until Tuesday an executive director in the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet, said the first few days in his new role have been “pretty busy” but also “really good.”
He told Insider that his priority areas include:
- Strengthening career and technical education.
- Improving opportunities for kids to learn skills that prepare them for transitions into careers or post-secondary education.
- Improving early literacy. Lewis said it was “concerning” that improvements in test scores seem to have plateaued and, in some cases, have reversed.
Lewis said the state has to address the challenges, including a persistent achievement gap between white and non-white students, by taking a hard look at current practices.
The state also must “not be afraid to try some alternative approaches,” he said.
One of those alternatives is sure to be charter schools. Lewis is a charter school proponent, another concern for local school officials, who have said that charters siphon dollars from public schools, with generally mixed results on educational achievements.
The Kentucky legislature passed legislation last year that allowed for the creation of charter schools. However, legislators have not yet codified a permanent funding mechanism for such schools, which, so far, has made it difficult for charter operators to consider launching such schools in Kentucky.
Lewis said he and his team are examining that issue.
This story has been updated with comments from Kolb and Brady as well as more comments from Lewis.