With several formal meetings under its belt, the next action of the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA) will be to create an eight- to nine-member board of directors that will manage and direct the group.
So far, PNC Bank executive Chuck Denny, public relations firm owner Sandra Frazier and Humana founder David Jones Sr., the co-founders of the group, have taken on the responsibility of organizing the meetings. Jones Sr., who spoke with media following a SCALA meeting Tuesday afternoon, said that they would like to split up the responsibility.
“Now that we’ve got a wonderful group, I think it’s a good chance to get more of them organized to help with these issues,” he said.
Beyond “not very long,” Jones Sr. did not have a strict timeline for when a board could be put in place. The duties of the board also have not yet been laid out.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do except be helpful,” he said.
Jones Sr. said the meeting Tuesday — the first opened to the media — was typical of past SCALA meetings, of which there have been four, during which a group gives a presentation and members ask questions. At past meetings, presentations were heard about increasing air service at the Louisville International Airport and improving K-12 education.
“We were getting organized at the beginning so there were some organizational issues, but basically our group quickly focused on three issues,” he said.
During the meeting, Metro United Way president and CEO Theresa Reno-Weber, who heads SCALA’s public safety committee, stated that SCALA hasn’t decided how it wants to affect change in the community, be it raising funds for different programs or advocating for policy changes.
“We haven’t really set the ‘How do we take all of this information, the information that we heard from the airport, the information that we heard from the education committee, information that we just heard today,’ and then as a group, how do we decide how are we going to help accelerate the outcome that we want to see in all of those spaces,” she said.
Reno-Weber lauded SCALA members for showing up to the meeting despite scrutiny, likely a reference to media coverage of SCALA as well as people who’ve denounced SCALA.
Much of the criticism has been related to SCALA’s focus on K-12 education and alleged that it is trying to undermine the democratically elected local school board. One group, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) Louisville, has called on SCALA members to leave the group and join existing efforts to improve local schools.
Jones Sr. also responded to critics labeling SCALA as secretive, nefarious and elitist.
“You can call us what you like. It’s a bunch of people who earned positions of power perhaps, of clout and I think of respect and the fact that we wanted to get together — it doesn’t bother me that you’re here,” he said referring to the media.
The group has not decided whether media will be allowed at future meetings.
“I think everybody has behaved so far today so who knows,” Jones Sr. said.
Although Tuesday’s meeting focused on a report from SCALA’s public safety committee, Jones Sr. spent much of his time talking about education during an interview with media afterward and criticized “some” print media for their coverage of SCALA.
“I want every child to have an education. The biggest single problem that we have in this community is a failing public school system with only 29 percent of African-American kids learning to read,” he said. “It’s a disgrace, and it needs to be dealt with, and I think the TV media has been very fair about that. Some of the print media, all they want to talk about is controversy, but whether SCALA is a problem or not, the public education system is a problem, and we’ve got to fix it.”
Jones Sr. noted that he grew up poor in west Louisville during the Great Depression because his father could not find work at the time, but he said he “made good” because of a quality education and earned his place as a prominent businessman.
“The cornerstone of my success is that I was lucky enough to have a really good education,” he said, adding that he is passionate about children having the opportunities he had.
Jones Sr. said he isn’t proposing a particular fix for the public school system but that an effective remedy must be found, be it a state takeover of public education or another remedy. At the March 1 Rotary Club of Louisville meeting, he asked attendees to call Gov. Matt Bevin and ask him to fix JCPS, saying “it’s going to take a takeover of the schools.”
What he wants to see are results, Jones Sr. said Tuesday. “We are not getting them now, and to pretend that we are and that the problem is people who call attention to our deficit — I don’t care. I have been criticized over lots of things over lots of years.”
When asked his thoughts on acting Superintendent Marty Pollio declining an invitation to join SCALA, Jones Sr. replied that he has heard that Pollio was a “wonderful principal,” adding that he sent Pollio a column written by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks about the importance of principals.
“I said, ‘Marty, that was written about you.’ I know he was a good principal, but did you know he doesn’t have the power to choose his own direct reports? They’re all tenured positions,” Jones Sr. said. “Did you know that he doesn’t have the power to change the principals in a school? Without that authority, I am sorry to tell you he is doomed to failure. You cannot accept responsibility without authority and expect to succeed.”
He added that he told former superintendent Donna Hargens just that when she took the job. Hargens resigned last year amid criticism from teachers and school board members.
“She found a way to have the authority to do things that need to be done,” Jones Sr. said.
When asked what he wants people to understand about SCALA, he replied: “That we need to fix public education.”