Louisville Metro Council on Thursday passed a bipartisan resolution expressing opposition to a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, which stated that such a move undermined the voters of Louisville by eliminating the power of their democratically elected school board.
The resolution passed by a 16-1 vote, and a copy of it will now be sent to Gov. Matt Bevin and each member of the Kentucky Board of Education.
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis recommended a state takeover of JCPS two weeks after the state board appointed him on April 17, and JCPS has until May 30 to issue a challenge to that recommendation before the state board votes to approve it or not.
In addition to citing “the unique importance” of maintaining locally elected school board members who are accountable to the community, the resolution also applauded “the significant progress to improve the educational opportunities for JCPS students under the leadership of Superintendent Pollio and the Jefferson County Board of Education.”
While a state takeover “reduces morale, diminishes community engagement and involvement, decreases momentum, and impedes the tangible progress being made,” the resolution states that the best means to improve outcomes for students is “support for and collaboration with the current JCPS leadership team by the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Board of Education, and the entire Louisville community.”
The only member to vote against the resolution was Republican Councilman Stuart Benson, while four other Republicans — Kevin Kramer, Marilyn Parker, Julie Denton and Glen Stuckel — chose to vote “present.”
Kramer stated that he would have supported the resolution if they had adopted the amended language proposed by Councilman Scott Reed, R-16, as he felt the original language was too “provocative,” and was attacking the very people who the council would be appealing to.
Despite his present vote, Kramer stated that he was not in favor of a state takeover and the undermining of local control, stating that the problems that JCPS faces are a lot bigger than what the school system can fix itself, and “I think the state coming in and controlling the school system and fixing it is even less of a reality, or a possibility.”
The only two Republicans to vote for the resolution were Councilwoman Angela Leet and Reed, while James Peden abstained due to being a JCPS employee and Robin Engel abstained because his wife works for JCPS.
Leet supported Reed’s proposed amendment — which included prominent mention of the district’s troubling achievement gaps and proficiency scores — but voted for the amendment because “we do believe in local control.”
“The locally elected school board should be given an opportunity to work with Dr. Pollio, as the new superintendent, for a period of time to get to where we need to be,” said Leet.
Parker explained her present vote by saying that the council “should just let this play out,” while Denton said that the governor and the state board members would ignore their resolution, calling it “symbolism over strong substance.”
Denton added that such resolutions telling other bodies what to do “isn’t our lane.”
Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, countered that the issue of local democratic control is so important that everyone should be on the record, approvingly citing an Op-Ed released that day by three Republican members of the Kentucky General Assembly — including Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Jason Nemes of Louisville — indicating strong opposition to the state takeover.
“I hope people do get out of what they think their lane is, and I’m happy to see members of the General Assembly — it’s not their lane to criticize this decision, either,” said Hollander. “But Republicans and Democrats are stepping up and saying ‘this is not good for our community.’ I think everyone needs to take a position and step up.”
All 16 Democrats who were present for the debate voted for the resolution, except for Councilman Vitalis Lanshima, D-21, who abstained due to being a JCPS employee.
The full resolution can be read below: