Jefferson County School Board Candidates In District 5 Answer Our Questions
Jefferson County Board of Education member Linda Duncan has two challengers in Tuesday's election—Richard Brown and David Hittle. (You can check which school district you live inhere.) The trio answered a series of questions from WFPL:What are your top priorities as a school board member?
Richard Brown: Getting our budgetary/financial shop in order. I possess two decades of professional experience, including public sector budgeting, fund accounting, and labor-management relations. The current board authorized salary increases for teachers this year from a one-time cash reserve, because they wanted JCTA's support, and didn't want to raise taxes in an election year. You don't commit to perpetual increases in spending using a one time cash reserve. Now, Linda Duncan has hinted that a tax increase is coming next year. I'm voting "no," unless the tax increase is above the threshold to go to the voters. Either the voters can support it, or they can vote it down. Additionally, I want the Jefferson County Teachers Association to reimburse JCPS for (President Brent) McKim's salary; our current arrangement I feel violates the Taft-Hartley Act. Internal Audit should report to the board; I totally agree! And, I want them beefed up!Linda Duncan: As a school board member, one of my top priorities is sustaining the progress we are making academically—79 percent grad rate, 60.5 percent college and career-ready, ACT average up to 19.1, all nine groups we track are progressing, district ranking up from 32nd percentile to 51st percentile, improving from 75 schools to 95 schools meeting their targets, and having the district surpass its target of 63.5 to reach an overall score of 65. Other priorities include expanding pre-school enrollment, addressing barriers poverty imposes, and keeping our kids safe.David Hittle: My number one priority is to never vote for a tax increase. For far too long the board has just continued to increase taxes. My second priority would be to make certain that students are taught about America’s political and economic system. My third priority would be to persuade the state legislature to move away from the assignment system we have currently, which causes more bad than good. Finally, persuading the legislature to make Kentucky a Common Core-free state.What is your position on charter schools?Brown: I have consistently said that "they are not my first choice." Ask anyone! I'm consistent. My first choice is to try what I can to make a non-charter school system work. But, if I that does not work; I'm all in. My priority is students, not in empty talk but in action. My opponent says she's for quality schools: Semple Elementary's test scores have dropped; Semple has been in the lower 10 percent of all Kentucky schools for over a decade; Semple is in her district; these recent scores happened on her watch. I do not seek this position to serve forever. I shall do two terms, maximum, if deemed worthy by the voters. And, in those terms, I shall fight ever day for the students. They are the priority; if that means we need to give charter schools a chance, so be it.
Duncan: I oppose charter schools because they segregate students by race, socio-economic status, language, or religion, leaving the most expensive kids to educate (English as a second language, special needs, high-poverty, minority and white) behind in public schools while taking the funding for the least-expensive kids to educate with them, only to get about the same results as the public schools serving the same kinds of students, all done for the financial gain of the charter company, which can close a school at any time and keep public money sans public accountability.Hittle: I absolutely support charter schools. I believe that parents should have the right to choose between the public school system and a semi-private school system. The current assignment plan does not work and is making matters worse. While race is no longer a factor in the assignment plan, economic status is. The assignment plan is supposed to make all schools equal, but Rutherford Elementary in District 5 has a 95 percent disadvantaged economic status, while DuPont Manual High has a 14 percent.What changes should be implemented because of State Auditor Adam Edelen’s audit earlier this year?Brown: Everything in that audit is important. I'd like to point out that some on the board, including my incumbent opponent, resisted conducting the audit, and then dismissed the findings. But, much of it could have been resolved if we would have instituted bench-marking from the beginning. Doesn't Microsoft see what Apple is doing? Doesn't GE (now Electrolux) study LG? There's a term for it in the private sector: competitive intelligence. I would not say we are in competition; we need to use bench-marking because other districts, similar to us, may face the similar challenges, and they may have discovered wonderfully successful solutions that would could clone without having to reinvent the wheel. With regard to the financial short-comings, I feel even more troublesome is the approach the board takes to formulating policy and initiatives. If you want the C-J debate between Mrs. Duncan and me, she states the the superintendent formulates proposals and brings them to the board for approval. I feel that's the tail wagging the dog.Duncan: Because of Edelen's audit recommendations, we have created an online tool for anyone to examine our budget and drill down into any category of expense for explanation. We are centralizing policies, procedures, and contracts for quick reference. We are monitoring how personnel are reimbursed at the school and how SBDM councils spend their allocations on textbooks and supplies. We had already begun a re-org of Internal Audit, and we have beefed up IT safety systems to protect student and employee data. Benchmarking with other districts has been our past practice, but we have expanded for what we benchmark.
Hittle: I believe the board needs to continue to let go of the highly paid administrators. As stated above, I believe the board needs to move away from an assignment plan that is not making schools equal but instead is making some schools better than others.What do you think of the JCPS school choice system?Brown: Our student assignment plan: you could write a doctoral dissertation on. The reasons for it, the history, its roots in court ordered busing, and why we do this today. I'll try to be brief. I empathize with those that have three children and send them to three different schools. Our neighborhood elementary school is Semple. Our neighborhood middle school is Olmsted (we have one son, and two daughters). Our teenage children go to Male; we were fortunate to get them into the traditional program very early. Why? Give me one good reason why we would want to send our children to Semple, Olmsted and Iroquois when we could give them an exponentially better education by putting them on a bus. Parents do not send their kids to magnet schools; parents send their kids away from failing neighborhood schools. Bottom line: If neighborhood schools were on par with other schools, if they were not failing our communities, they would attract more students and then reduce demand for other schools.Duncan: I favor our expanding system of school choice. Students and parents can choose from among neighborhood schools, magnet and traditional schools, alternative programs such as Liberty, The Teenage Parent Program, and Phoenix School offer, all-girl and all-boy middle schools, a sixth-grade academy, 7-12 at Valley High and Waggener, can choose from among five-star career tech high schools, and now from between our Innovation schools at Maupin Elementary (Catalpa) and Atkinson Elementary (Louisville Reach Academy). Because of the growing diversity of our community, very few students must be sent someplace they have not chosen. Ninety-seven percent of our students get their first or second-choice elementary schools, and our parent survey rating sits at a 90 percent approval rating for our schools. With an 82 percent growing market share, parents must approve of our choice system as well.Hittle: As stated above, I do not approve of the current assignment plan, it is not making schools equal, it is making things less equal and making some schools better than others.What would you like to do to support JCPS’ lowest performing schools?Brown: As I said, I, as a board member, will take a more active role. I will be at SBDM meetings; I will have community meetings, monthly, at the three high schools, rotating. I will go to Frankfort and advocate for the students, not for any other group. I will be in the offices of family court judges to lean on parents that are not supporting their children's future. I will be in the offices of business leaders asking what skills our students need in order to truly be career ready. I will raise funds to create an endowment for perpetuity. KRS 160.290 states that the board role is to work for the students. I'm not listening to NEA, KEA, JCTA, or any of the other interest groups. I'm going to listen to parents, community leaders, data/metrics, and serve the community, not special interests. After four years, if the community feels that I have failed in that mission, they will have the option to replace me.Duncan: I would love to support our lowest-scoring schools by cutting class sizes and adding school-based health centers staffed with a nurse, a social worker, and a mental health counselor. Our lowest-scoring schools have high numbers of high-poverty kids in need of resources such as food, medical attention, and transition classrooms for those needing either ultra-small settings or places to catch up because of attendance issues or family mobility issues. In short, I favor doubling the resources into these schools and giving kids more time to learn in a supported environment rich with adults who can be mentors to help them see futures beyond their neighborhoods.Hittle: I believe a change in the assignment plan would help. If the assignment plan is supposed to make schools equal than the schools should actually be equal. That means that all schools should have a 50 percent economically disadvantaged student population. Instead of some schools having populations in the 90s while others have populations in the tens.What are your views of the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s relationship with the school district?Brown: I love our hard working teachers; my life has been positively influenced by superstar teachers. I am a former Teamster shop steward. I represented up to 1,200 members at any given time. I've walked a picket line for 15 days in August so families could have access to health care. I put my skin in the game. On the other hand, when Local 89 tried to raise dues on part time workers in 1998, I wrote to every civic leader asking for their help. A few weeks later, the increase was taken off the table. I'm objective. I feel that I was a very fair steward: administering a collective bargaining agreement, protecting members, but understood that labor and management had to work together in order to be successful. I do not see that same relationship between our school board and JCTA. I feel JCTA has way too much influence, but that is not their fault; that's the board's fault. Just because you apply pressure on me doesn't mean I should give in. As stated, I feel paying Mr. McKim's salary without reimbursement is an unfair labor practice, and a serious conflict of interest. Currently, Mr. McKim seems to be a de facto 8th board member, going on trips with board members, having special access to board members, etc. Duncan: JCTA is much more than a union trying to bargain for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Because JCTA is made up of practicing professionals with the knowledge and expertise to make continuous improvement happen, they should be sitting at the table when new designs are being formulated. They are collaborative partners in defining best practice, so our relationship should be that of partners, their giving input and feedback as proposals are being formulated. They are the ones who must execute those plans, so their voices are needed to help guide us to what is practical and workable. Communication and collaboration should define our relationship with JCTA.Hittle: I believe the relationship between the board and the JCTA is too extreme. As you know, we learned that the JCTA president is actually paid by the board using our taxpayer dollars. While we are complaining about the administrators, he is just as bad. The Board should not be paying the same individual who makes it more expensive to operate. The JCTA this year stated that “they didn’t care if taxes had to increase, they wanted a pay raise.”What is your view of the superintendent?Brown: I will not base my opinion on hearsay. I'd enjoy the opportunity to work with Dr. Hargens to come to my own conclusion.Duncan: I believe that Dr. Hargens has done a very good job of keeping our district fiscally sound and executing our jointly formulated Vision 2015. Her job has been to come up with how our vision is to be achieved. We asked that all nine groups served in our district—white, African American, Hispanic, Asian, ECE, ESL, free/reduced lunch, pay for lunch, and Advance Program kids—show progress toward being good at our tested subjects and that we increase our graduation rate and college and career-ready rate and that we provide extra support to help all students reach proficiency goals. As long as we show progress in these areas, she has earned our continued support, with communication and collaboration being growth areas for her. From the 9th percentile in the state to the 51st percentile is remarkable progressHittle: I applaud the superintendent’s stance this year in opposing any tax increases. However, the comments that next year may be a different story is a scary thought. As soon as the vote took place not increasing taxes, the board started speaking about having to increase them next year. The people of Jefferson County are not the school board’s piggy bank, and shouldn’t be treated as such.The school board election is Tuesday. You can find questionnaires for the two other contested Jefferson County Board of Education elections hereand here.