Three Jefferson County Board of Education members have told Insider that they are inclined to challenge the interim state commissioner’s recommendation for a state takeover of the local school district, and one of them expects the matter to end up in court.

And the local teachers association president told Insider that he expects the board to challenge the recommendation and that the union would support the effort with protests and help in court, if necessary.

Wayne Lewis

The state’s interim education commissioner, Wayne Lewis, on Monday recommended a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools after a comprehensive 14-month management audit. A takeover would strip the local school board of its power, reducing it to an advisory body. Lewis also recommended JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio remain in his position to continue his improvement efforts, forgoing an immediate appointment of a state manager whose authority would supersede that of Pollio.

The local school board has until May 30 to determine whether to request a formal hearing. The board has only two regularly scheduled meetings until then, including one next Tuesday.

While most JCBE members declined to talk to Insider about what they planned to do, two members indicated they would challenge Lewis’ plan to strip the locally elected board off its power.

“I plan on … voting for a challenge,” Chris Brady, a JCBE member and its immediate past chair, said.

Dr. Lisa Willner

Vice Chair Lisa Willner said that while she looked forward to exploring the options with JCPS officials and legal counsel, she “fervently” believes that “the children of this district will be best served by having a democratically elected board.

“If we have public schools they need to belong to the public. The public needs to have a voice. And the public’s voice is through their elected school board members. I think if we lose that public voice, it’s to the detriment of kids,” Willner said.

“And we’ve seen that in Kansas. We’ve seen that in Michigan. We’ve seen that in New Orleans. I don’t want to see it in Louisville,” she said.

Linda Duncan

Board member Linda Duncan told Insider via email that she, too, “was not ready to surrender local control.”

“You bet I want to preserve local control and voter accountability,” she said. “Appointed offices have no voter accountability.

“I don’t trust any of this, given the agenda being pushed in the background by Louisville business people who have been pushing for charter schools for years so Louisville can promise new business families predictable seats in charter schools,” Duncan said.

She also said that the audit report mentions some problems the district already is addressing, and some information is simply wrong and/or unclear.

JCBE Chair Diane Porter said Monday that she had no comment until she read the audit. Board member Steph Horne could not be reached. Board member Benjamin Gies has told Insider that he does not issue statements outside of board meetings. Board member Chris Kolb referred questions to Porter and Pollio.

Kolb has strongly criticized actions taken at the state level that hinted at Gov. Matt Bevin and others pushing for a state takeover of the local district and therefore seems likely to want to challenge Lewis’ recommendation as well.

If Brady, Willner, Duncan and Kolb voted to challenge Lewis’ recommendation, they would constitute a majority on the seven-member board.

Brent McKim

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said that he expected the board to challenge Lewis’ recommendation, and that the teachers would provide support.

“This is far from over,” McKim told Insider. “We’re going to fight this in the weeks ahead leading up to the hearing before the board of education, and if that does not resolve the issue, we’ll be challenging it in court.”

The JCTA represents about 6,500 local teachers. Their contract is set to expire June 30.

McKim said the union in the coming days will speak with attorneys to determine its options, and if it cannot file a lawsuit by itself, it would file amicus briefs in support of any lawsuit filed by the JCBE.

Brady, too, said he suspected that the proceedings would end up in court. An initial administrative challenge means that the local board would be appealing to the state board, — the same entity that will act upon Lewis’ recommendation.

“I’m not optimistic (it will) be taken care of at the administrative level,” Brady said.

Correction: This post was updated to correct information about possible union protests.

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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