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A Curious Louisville News Special: Your Questions About The JCPS Audit

school bus
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Earlier this month, Curious Louisville asked what questions you have about the JCPS audit and possible state takeover. You sent us more than 50 in the first 24 hours, and we realized we’d need to dedicate some extra airtime to answer them all.

You can listen to our hour-long news special, hosted by Capitol reporter Ryland Barton and WFPL education reporter Roxanne Scott, in the player above.

And you can read some the questions we answered below:

'How did they come up with a 90-page report in two weeks?'

For a lot of people, like listener Ed Grimes who asked this question, it seems like the JCPS audit came out of nowhere -- so we talked with Chris Brady from the JCPS school board to establish a more complete timeline.

“There was a management review in the summer of 2016 that was initiated due to some reporting irregularities regarding seclusion and restraint numbers,” Brady said. “The district was keeping track of both of those numbers in two separate databases and wasn’t reporting the correct number to the Kentucky Department of Education.”

Stephen Pruitt had recently been appointed commissioner of education. He launched a management review, which included on-site visits to a variety of JCPS schools. They were looking at how those locations measured up in five different areas: governance; policy and procedure; food services, transportation and facilities; personnel administration and instructional management.

This lasted until February of 2017.

“The recommendation was going to be that there would be a full audit of the district,” Brady said. “We were told initially that it would be concluded sometime the end of the academic year, which would have been May of 2017.”

However, the full audit was instead released last month by the new interim commissioner of education, Wayne Lewis.

'Has the state taken over other districts? If so, what were the reasons and how do those situations compare with the current one?'

This question, initially asked by Shawn Carroll, was submitted by several listeners when Curious Louisville solicited your questions.

It’s one that Capitol reporter Ryland Barton initially looked into a few weeks ago; you can listen to hisfull history of Kentucky state takeovers here. But the short answer is that, yes, the state has taken over a handful of other school districts -- some of which are still under state control. Those districts tended to be more rural and are much smaller than JCPS.

Additionally, when the state has taken over a district in the past, it’s usually because of finances or district corruption, whereas the problems identified in the JCPS audit deal more with performance and student safety.

'JCPS and JCTA are set to negotiate a new contract. If the state takes over, how will this impact the negotiations? If the state comes back with an unacceptable offer will teachers strike in the fall? Is the state looking into local school staffing and pay of certified staff?'

This question came from listener Paul Downs.

WFPL’s Roxanne Scott asked Jefferson County Teachers Assocication president Brent McKim, who said he expects negotiations to continue as usual.

“We’re committed to following, in good faith, the bargaining process that’s in our contract,” McKim said. “We’re going to operate from the positive assumption that no matter who’s on the other side of the table, they’re going to, in good faith, follow the process for negotiating a new contract as well.”

But, as Scott found in her reporting, there are a lot of unknowns about the process. You can read more here.

'What are the pros and cons of a state takeover versus giving the current superintendent clear goals and guidelines?'

This is a listener question with no clear answer; it depends on whether you ask someone who is pro-takeover or someone who is pro-local control.

But we spoke to Jim Waters, the president of the free-market think tank the Bluegrass Institute. He’s pro-takeover.

“We think that a state intervention with the state working with Dr. Pollio -- who we believe has a vision and has the ability to address those gaps and to improve the education system here and to improve the day-to-day management -- that that’s a better situation right now,” Waters said. “The Jefferson County school board is a problem here. We think it stands in the way of improvement.”

Sadiqa Reynolds is the president of the Louisville Urban League; she’s pro-local control.

“So, I just don’t see the governor as the savior -- I’m sorry,” Reynolds said. “So Marty Polio is in place -- he is the man that is there right now, and what we need to do is figure out what policies, what statues, need to be changed in order to empower him to do the work and then make him accountable to this community and the community has to be educated to understand.”
In the special, we also tackled questions like:

    • “Why did the JCPS Board fail to implement the 4 percent tax or the 'nickel tax" to provide needed funds for facilities improvement?”
    • “If the state takes over Jefferson County Public Schools. To me, it then would be considered [a] state-run system. At this point, what happens to the local school taxes we are forced to pay?”
    • “Why did Bevin replace the KY Board of Education? What's the motivation behind the replacement?”
    • “Also, if the state takeover does occur, would the takeover be permanent? Or is there a limit to how long the state may hold control over a local school district?”

You can ask your own question about the JCPS audit, or about anything related to Louisville in the form below or at curiouslouisville.org.