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JCPS To Challenge Tax Recall Petition

Liz Schlemmer

Jefferson County Public Schools will be allowed to take legal action against a petition to recall a 7-cent property tax increase. The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to allow the district to challenge the Jefferson County Clerk's decision to certify the petition.

The petition to recall the increase needed 35,517 signatures to put the tax hike before voters on the November ballot. Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw certified 38,507 signatures. But the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), the district's teachers union, has called into question whether some signatures are valid.

JCTA president Brent McKim said a union review of the signatures the clerk validated revealed 1,200 duplicate signatures, and 5,400 signatures that had a discrepancy with address or date of birth.

The clerk's notes show wrong dates of birth have been flagged in many instances, "but it never seems to have prevented anyone from being validated, which is very problematic and very troubling," McKim said.

“We’re confident the petition did not meet the standards set forth in legislation,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said in an emailed statement.

The board passed the 7-cent property tax increase in May. Supporters say JCPS' tax rates are lower than competing districts, and that the district needs more funding to support students and address $1.1 billion in facilities needs. The increase would raise the tax bill on a $200,000 home by $140 a year. It amounts to a 9 percent increase in local property taxes levied by JCPS.

Petitioners say JCPS's relatively low student test scores show the district does not make good use of taxpayer dollars.

JCPS May Go Its Own Way On Sports

At Tuesday's meeting, district leaders said they may delay JCPS's official beginning of the fall sports season if the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) does not push back its timeline.

The KHSAA Board of Control voted in July to open the fall season on Aug. 24, with new health and safety guidelines. But coronavirus cases have risen sharply since the vote, and Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended schools delay in-person classes until Sept. 28.

The KHSAA could move the start date again at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.  If they don't, Pollio said the district will "potentially have to have a specially-called meeting to have the board weigh in," on whether to go its own way.

Board chair Diane Porter said members have been getting "numerous" emails from parents saying it's okay for their child to participate in sports.

"But it's, if I'm not mistaken, it's a little bit bigger than that, as we talk about putting students together," Porter said, pointing to outbreaks that have been linked to sports practices in other districts.

Board member Chris Kolb said he couldn't "in good conscience" vote to allow sports or in-person activities anytime soon, based on the current positivity rate in Jefferson County.

Board member James Craig was more ambivalent, and said he wanted to find a way to allow for athletics, if safe.

"I'm really anxious about making sure that we do everything possible to provide for these kids," Craig said.

Next Year, JCPS To Provide ESL at Every School

Next year JCPS will, for the first time, provide English as a Second Language (ESL) services in every school.

"What that means is our families will not have to choose between attending a school that offers ESL, or waiving services so they can attend their reside school," JCPS Assistant Superintendent Alicia Averette said.

Historically, JCPS has only had ESL services in certain schools. Families who wanted their student to attend a magnet school or a school close to home that didn't have an ESL program had to waive their right to receive language services, which is guaranteed under federal law. About 12% of English learners waived ESL services last school year.

Staffing ESL services in each school will be a challenge. District leaders say ESL teachers are already in short supply. In the meantime, Pollio said clusters of schools might have to share a single ESL support teacher.

Officials said they are trying to staff up by putting 25 JCPS teachers through an ESL "endorsement" program, and that they may turn to outside providers, or private companies, to provide online instruction.

More than 10,000 English Learners are enrolled in JCPS.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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