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Takeaways From the Jefferson County School Board Candidates Forum

Jefferson County Board of Education candidates discussed topics ranging from low-performing schools to charter schools in a forum Tuesday.Candidates seeking to represent districts 3, 5 and 6 spoke in hour-long slots dedicated to each race. (District 1 is also up for election, but incumbent Diane Porter is running unopposed and she did not participate in the forum.)Here is a breakdown of some of the issues the candidates hit on during the forum, which was organized by the Parent Teacher Association's 15th district and moderated by WFPL's Devin Katayama.District 3Easily the most contested race, the District 3 seat will have new representation following the Nov. 4 election— incumbent Debbie Wesslund announcedearlier this year she will not seek reelection.The candidates vying for the seat are Lee Bailey, Stephanie Horne, Angie Moorin, Louis Scarpellini and Jan Sholtz.  All candidates attended the forum.When the candidates were asked to address the topic of charter schools, the answers were varied.Lee Bailey flatly said he is in support of charter schools.“I think the children in charter schools are more involved, they feel like they belong, they are part of the system, their parents are involved,” he said.But Louis Scarpellini said the issue of education must be solved in the public school system.“It may take sacrifices, it may take changes, it may not be a great experience,”  he said.Other District 3 candidates refused to rule out the adoption of charter schools, which are currently not allowed under state law but are regularly brought for consideration in the state legislature.  Sholtz said she didn’t believe “any item is off the table” in terms of educating students.Moorin and Horne both said that is a decision that is left up to the state legislature.“If it were passed by state legislature I would vigorously advocate for local control,” Horne said.“I don’t think that anything should be off the table,” Moorin said.  “Some of the biggest and strongest arguments against charter schools usually have to do with the adults in the room, not the children.”Audio from JCPS district 3 forum.    District 5The race for the District 5 seat on the JCPS school board features incumbent Linda Duncan, David Hittle and Richard Brown.  Hittle was not present during Tuesday’s forum.The conversation between Duncan and Brown, however, was the most heated of the night.  Brown openly questioned Duncan’s past votes and at one point questioned her ability to conduct internet searches.“Apparently, Mrs. Duncan doesn’t know how to go into Google and type in New Orleans,” Brown said in relation to a case he was making in regards to charter schools.Brown said he would rather work find educational success with public schools, but if it doesn't come and if legislators approve charter schools, he said he would be "in" to exploring those options.Duncan said she does not support charter schools.But when the issue of priority, or persistently low-performing, schools was introduced, both candidates said work is needed to be done.“Priority schools, we have to approach them in a way of targeting interventions and doubling resources, lots of times, if we could,” Duncan said. She praised the district’s ongoing effort to address priority schools and said progress is being made.“Many of them are ready to come out of priority status,” she added.Brown said the priority schools may need additional resources, but scorned the district’s decision to “blow” funds in approving teacher raises.“If you want to go blow some cash, instead of blowing it on teachers—which I love teachers—let’s be honest, if that is a priority, then we need to prioritize," he said.Audio from JCPS District 5 forum.District 6Longtime school board member Carol Haddad, the District 6 incumbent, is facing opposition from Lisa Willner, who was recently endorsed by the Jefferson County Teacher’s Association political action committee.Patrick John Hughes is also running for the seat, but he did not participate in Tuesday’s forum.The candidates gave differing responses when asked to gauge the district’s response to state auditor Adam Edelen’s report that JCPS was operating with a “bloated” central office staff.Haddad said the district does, indeed pay well, “as we should,” but not all administrators make more than $100,000 a year work in central office.  Many, she said, are working as principals and assistant principals in the schools."We are putting the money where it needs to be,” she said.  “You have to have central office, if you don’t have people that can help the school’s with curriculum and instruction and finance and legal, you’re going to be in trouble because the superintendent can’t do all of that.”Willner said the public has been kept in the dark about how the district has responded to the auditor’s report.“We’ve still not seen reports that reconcile what JCPS is doing in terms of central office with what the auditor found and I think that the onus is still on JCPS at this point to explain these discrepancies," she said.Audio from JCPS district 6 forum.Note:  A previous version of this story misquoted Angie Moorin.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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