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What the Jefferson County Board of Education's New Members Could Mean For Public Schools

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Soon, five of the seven Jefferson County Board of Education members will have served no more than two years.

On Tuesday night, Stephanie Horne won a close battle to replace retiring board member Debbie Wesslund in District 3, which covers parts of eastern Jefferson County. Also, Lisa Willner beat long-time board member Carol Haddad in District 6 (in central Jefferson County) by a large margin. You'll find more onthe results here.

For Willner and Horne's takes on the issues, check their responses to WFPL's pre-election questionnaires. Here is Horne's andhere is Willner's.

In the 2012 election, three new board members joined the group—David Jones Jr. in District 2, Chuck Haddaway in District 4, and Chris Brady in District 7.
“I think new board members do make a difference," Willner said Tuesday following her victory. "I think we saw that the last election cycle when new board members came on that  it changed the dynamic of the board. There was a more future-oriented way of looking at things."

But that doesn't come easy, said Chris Brady, who was elected to represent District 7 in 2012. When asked what the new board members should be prepared for, Brady said everyday there's something new, and "there's always something more than can be done."

Whether the new faces turn out to improve public education in Louisville has yet to be seen. Brad Hughes, with the Kentucky School Boards Association, said he thinks that will depend on the issues facing Jefferson County Public Schools, and new board members themselves.

“One can make a point that new people bring new perspectives, maybe even new ideas," he said. "They certainly bring new priorities to the school board.”

At the same time, he said, losing someone with a lot of experience—such as Haddad who has served the board since 1990—can be a loss.

There's a learning curve for new board members. They'll deal with complex issues such as budgeting, staffing and tax decisions, Hughes said. But some of those issues will typically be dealt with later in their first year, or even in the second year, giving them time to adjust.

“Even after they go through the training that the Kentucky School Boards Association provides there’s a learning curve, not just about the personalities with the people you’ll be working with but how the role of the school board actually functions," he said.

Whether it’s important to have a mix of veteran and freshmen board members, Hughes couldn't say. What is important is having a board that works well together, he said.

“I know school board that haven’t had a change in 12 to 16 years and they work together famously. "I have seen a few school boards where when a new majority is voted in, things go along smoothly," Hughes said.

"Unfortunately there have also been situations, and more than just a few, where a new majority comes in and they decide immediately they’re going to change things, and some of that may be for the good and some of that may be disruptive within the district.”

The Work For Jefferson County Board Members

At the beginning of their terms, the new members will encounter an incredible amount of reading that's needed, Brady said. It's to the point where "it might be beneficial to take some speed reading classes."
The large amount of materials and documents that board members are responsible for prior to each board meeting has been an issue brought up by other board members.

The administration does bring new board members up to speed on the district's strategic plan or organizational structure, Brady said. He added that it would be advantageous to get a copy of pictures and identifications earlier so new board members can begin memorizing who people in JCPS are.

His colleague, David Jones Jr. in District 2 (also elected in 2012), said that the orientation Superintendent Donna Hargens organized was "very useful."

But some things need to be learned through experience, like the limitations of the office, said Brady.
KSBA will keep track of the number of new board members, returning incumbents, and defeating incumbents in the coming weeks.