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Kentucky GOP lawmakers file resolutions to explore breaking up JCPS

School superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio greets students as they arrive for the first day of class at The Academy @ Shawnee.
J. Tyler Franklin
School superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio greets students as they arrive for the first day of class at The Academy @ Shawnee.

As promised, a group of state GOP lawmakers filed a resolution to create a task force on JCPS. Its main area of study: what it would look like to break up the district of 95,000 students.

Republican state House and Senate lawmakers representing parts of Louisville filed a measure Monday that could lay the groundwork for splitting up Jefferson County Public Schools.

House Concurrent Resolution 81 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 142 would create a 13-member task force of lawmakers, city and state officials, JCPS parents, business leaders and one teacher.

The group would review JCPS’ effectiveness and governance structure, and make recommendations for possible changes.

Louisville Republican Rep. Ken Fleming, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said when talking to constituents he heard a “systemic theme… that something needs to be changed.”

During a news conference Monday, Fleming and other Republican supporters pointed to JCPS’ test scores, student behavior issues and transportation woes as evidence the state’s largest district is in need of study.

“Many of the students and staff have lost hours of learning and teaching opportunities due to continued transportation issues,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Tichenor of Smithfield said. Tichenor’s district includes a portion of JCPS.

The same group of Republicans co-sponsoring the resolutions also signed a letter in August after JCPS’ transportation meltdown saying they planned to take legislative action this session to explore splitting up JCPS.

Meanwhile, Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal said he’s worried his Republican colleagues may have a “preconceived notion” to divide the district.

“I think it's important for us not to make it rich on one side and poor on one side, and have part of the community struggling in that particular regard,” Neal said.

Jefferson County Public Schools was created in 1975 when a federal judge ordered the county and city school systems to merge and integrate racially. Jefferson County remains heavily racially and economically segregated to this day.

In the proposed resolution, lawmakers say the task force would seek expert opinions and research from “education-focused institutions,” including the Prichard Committee, the Council on Postsecondary Education and national educational research organizations.

The group would meet twice a month over the legislative interim to hear testimony from parents, educators and other community members, and review past audits and analysis.

The task force would also be directed to “[e]xplore options for the creation of new school districts” by dividing JCPS. Recommendations would be due to the Legislative Research Commission by December 1.

“All options are on the table,” Fleming said. He added that the group is not coming to the project with “preconceived notions.”

Neal, the Louisville senator, was skeptical, saying he believed that desires for “structural change” are “underlying this whole thing.”

“I picked that up not only in public discussion but also private discussion, and that’s a concern for me,” Neal said.

In particular, Neal said he worries about how members of the task force would be selected.

“Anybody can end up at that table,” he said.

Fleming encouraged interested individuals to reach out to the Republican lawmakers sponsoring the resolution. The community task-force members will be selected by the Legislative Research Commission, Fleming said.

Fleming said he had a conversation with representatives from JCPS and described the interaction as “good” and “positive.”

In a statement, JCPS spokesperson Carolyn Callahan said the district is “fine with an objective, unbiased study of JCPS and how we might better serve students… However, this task force is obviously stacked in a way to come to a pre-ordained conclusion, that is, to split up JCPS.”

She said JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, “and anyone who truly understands education governance,” was not assigned to the proposed task force.

“[T]hat says it all,” Callahan wrote by email.

She also noted that the district has undergone numerous audits since 2017.

Here’s the full list of who would be on the Efficient and Effective School District Governance Task Force:

  • Two state House representatives, appointed by the GOP speaker
  • Two state Senate members, appointed by the president of the Senate, a Republican
  • One House member appointed by the Democratic floor leader
  • One senator appointed by the Democratic floor leader
  • State Auditor Allison Ball or her designee
  • Two JCPS taxpayers with “competency and experience of knowledge in the field of education” and who have children that are current JCPS students or who have graduated in the past five years
  • Two members with experience in finance, management and operations of large businesses that operate in Kentucky
  • One JCPS certified teacher with at least five years experience in the district
  • Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg or his designee
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.