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Don't Expect Acting Superintendent To Slack On JCPS Job

Creative Commons

Marty Pollio has made a career working in Jefferson County Public Schools.

In the coming weeks, he'll take over as the district's head.

Pollio is being tapped to fill the void that will come when current Superintendent Donna Hargens resigns from her post in July.

School board members made the decision to hire Pollio as acting superintendent earlier this week. He currently serves as the principal of Doss High School.

His term will begin on July 2 — a day after Hargens' departure — and last for at least six months, or until the school board appoints a permanent superintendent, per the contract.

During that time, Pollio will be afforded the full authority as district superintendent, according to his contract. That means he'll be in charge of the state's largest school district — and have a $1.2 billion budget in his hands.

"Functionally, an interim superintendent would be doing all the same things, making all the same decisions, that a full time, sitting superintendent under contract, would make," said Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Board Association.

This means Pollio will sign checks, remedy personnel issues, craft budget developments and maintain or even enact new district initiatives, Hughes said.

"There are no prohibitions," he said.

Still, the perception exists that acting superintendents are merely placeholders whose primary purpose "is keeping the seat warm for the successor superintendent," according to Michael J. Mugits, who studied the impact of interim superintendents and authored a report for the School Superintendents Associations.

Mugits said the perception is far from the truth.

Acting superintendents play a critical role in district leadership, he said. Most notably, they can provide an aura of stability for district staff and personnel upended by unexpected resignations or departures, as such incidents can stress a school system, Mugits said. What's more, acting superintendents can create a political atmosphere that's more conducive to "the successful entry of the successor."

Chris Brady, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said in a phone interview Wednesday the group did not seek a passive acting superintendent.

"Our board was looking for someone to come in and lead our district," he said. "I don't mean lead the district as far as being a caretaker."

Pollio convinced the board of his ability to do that, Brady said.

"He has presented us with a very compelling vision and a direction that we feel the district needs to go in," he said.

Brady said the board will now proceed in establishing criteria and the scope of the search for a permanent successor to Hargens. The search, he said, will likely be a national search and will include opportunity for public engagement.

Hughes, with the state's school board association, said the demands for superintendents vary among districts.

In Kentucky, there are 173 public school districts, he said. More than 20 of those districts will begin the next school year with a new superintendent — which is about average for annual superintendent turnover, he said.

Hughes said it's not unusual for school boards to hire acting superintendents from within the district.

"It's most certainly not an unusual step in Kentucky," he said.

When Pollio assumes his role as acting superintendent he will earn a prorated annual salary of $185,000, a district vehicle and a cell phone, among other benefits, according to his contract.

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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