JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio prepared for his final interviews of the first day of school. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This story has been updated.

Jefferson County Public Schools superintendents, now and in the future, could gain more power over the district under legislation introduced Friday.

Proposed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville), Senate Bill 250 would grant more authority to leaders of school districts in consolidated local governments. JCPS is the only such district in Kentucky.

Headlining the bill is a change to allow superintendents to demote central office staff without cause. Administrators earn tenure after three years in a central office post, and their demotions can be held up in appeal hearings in which the superintendent is required to prove cause.

Beginning July 1, no administrator will have a contract, if the bill passes.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio told the state board of education last week that the state statute governing tenure is a barrier to cutting central office spending, an oft-criticized part of the district. Roughly $100 million could be redirected to schools, he said, but it would take around a decade to do so because of tenure.

To reporters soon after, Pollio said he would be supportive of a measure to change the tenure law.

Under the bill, Pollio would be able to approve contracts up to $50,000 without school board consent — a jump from the current $5,000 cutoff.

SB 250 also calls for the JCPS superintendent to have full principal hiring authority, a power currently held by school-based councils. Unlike Senate Bill 3, which would move principal selection authority to superintendents across the state, SB 250 does not require council input in the decision.

SB 3 cleared the Senate in the first week of the session but hasn’t been brought for a hearing in the House.

In the wake of a recommended state takeover last year, many pushed to give Pollio more power and flexibility to turnaround JCPS. But doing so may subvert the power of the locally elected school board and school-based councils with engaged parents.

One JCPS parent and public education advocate, Rob Mattheu, said he was concerned how the bill could play out with a less-popular superintendent, suggesting the bill would have been “a nightmare” under the former leader Donna Hargens. Hargens resigned under fire in 2017 amid concerns from parents and other stakeholders.

Through the JCPS settlement with the state to avoid a takeover, the local school board cannot fire Pollio without Commissioner Wayne Lewis’ permission until after the second audit in fall 2020.

Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, pushed for more authority for superintendents in its 2019 legislative agenda. In a statement Monday, Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, GLI’s chief operating officer, called SB 250 a “critically important piece of legislation.”

“Greater Louisville Inc. applauds Sen. Julie Raque Adams’ thoughtful approach to help improve outcomes for JCPS students,” she said. “Her legislation empowers our community to keep our schools under local control while removing bureaucratic barriers that distract from the important focus of educating our children.”

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Olivia Krauth
Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy. Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern. Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies. Email Olivia at [email protected]