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NAACP says JCPS plan to cut magnet transportation would create a community ‘catastrophe’

A young Black woman speaks at a podium set atop at table with a banner that reads NAACP. Behind her are several Black and white women and an elderly Black man in a suit.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Central High School parent Tanesha Booker spoke out along with the NAACP and Louisville Urban League against proposed cuts to magnet transportation.

The NAACP of Louisville is warning it could withdraw its support for Jefferson County Public Schools' new student assignment plan if the board moves forward with proposed cuts to magnet transportation.

The NAACP of Louisville joined with the Louisville Urban League and several Jefferson County Public Schools parents Wednesday to oppose proposed cuts to magnet transportation.

“The reason we're here today is we want to make certain that next Tuesday doesn't create a catastrophe for this community,” Louisville NAACP First Vice President Raymond Burse said.

With a week’s notice, the Jefferson County Board of Education announced plans to vote Tuesday on a proposed solution to the transportation issues ailing the district of 96,000 students.

It is not clear what exactly that proposal will be. Five days before a scheduled vote, no documents describing the final plan were available on the board’s website. But for months, JCPS staff have been making the case that cutting transportation for nearly all 16,000 magnet and traditional program students is the only salve for daily delays.

“We believe such a plan would lead to further segregation of schools in west Louisville and deny opportunities for high-quality education to Black, Brown and poor students who cannot afford private transportation,” Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham said at a news conference at the local NAACP headquarters.

In a letter to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and board members, Cunningham warned that the NAACP could withdraw its support for the new student assignment plan if a more equitable solution isn’t found to the transportation crisis.

Cunningham said the NAACP “took a leap of faith” two years ago when members decided to endorse the student assignment overhaul. That historic shift allows students in Louisville’s majority Black and low-income West End to attend a school closer to home. It’s a choice many West End families wanted — but the arrangement is also the final nail in the coffin for a nationally recognized legacy of racial integration. The NAACP struggled over whether to endorse a plan they knew would lead to more racial and economic segregation, but eventually decided to give it the greenlight.

“The NAACP now knows it didn't have all the information, it should have had to make this decision,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham and Burse said they wouldn’t have endorsed the student assignment overhaul if they had known it would cause such stress to the transportation system, require revised school start times and lead to the reduction of magnet opportunities.

Other solutions?

Louisville Urban League President Lyndon Pryor said he wanted to acknowledge that JCPS is “saddled with the burden” of solving “historic segregationist policies of this city.”

“That said, JCPS’ job is to do the best and most equitable thing for the students and families that they serve. And unfortunately, this proposal does not meet that bar,” he said.

He said the league is asking the JCPS board to “hold” on making a decision for now.

Pryor said the district isn’t considering alternatives.

“And maybe that's because they haven't talked about them all. They haven't talked with community about what those options could be,” he added.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio has repeatedly promised since August to get community feedback on transportation solutions. In response to a December inquiry from LPM News about public feedback events, JCPS spokesperson Carolyn Callahan said, “We will be having community input, but we do not have anything official ready to announce yet.”

Less than a week before the vote, no public hearings or other opportunities for public input have been scheduled.

NAACP leaders say they are also concerned that posting a final plan days before a possible vote does not give the public adequate time to vet a major community decision.

Burse added that JCPS still doesn’t fully understand why the transportation plan failed on Aug. 9. A third-party audit is not expected to come back until October.

“So if we don't have all of the information, all of the facts, we cannot make an informed decision. And JCPS is missing all of the facts at this point,” he said.

LPM has been trying to conduct its own investigation into the failures of Aug. 9, but JCPS has withheld officials’ text communications and other public records since an open records request in August.

LPM filed a lawsuit earlier this week asking a judge to force JCPS to disclose those records.

Parents speak out

Several magnet school parents joined NAACP and LUL leaders to oppose cuts to transportation.

Central High School parent Tanesha Booker said she’s worried that Central and other West End magnets could risk closing if they lose too many students who can’t find their own transportation.

Booker, who is the president of the Central High School PTA, said 57% of Central students rely on JCPS for transportation and may have to change schools if the proposal moves forward.

“If there's less students, there's less funding, and then they can't pay for the teachers, the teachers that are over these magnets,” Booker explained.

In a flier opposing transportation cuts, the NAACP said the plan would “pose an immediate threat of closure” to Central, Carter Traditional Elementary and Lyman T. Johnson Traditional Middle School.

JCPS parent of three Taryn Bell said if the district cuts transportation, her 9-year-old son may have to leave the school he’s attended since kindergarten.

“It's affecting these kids because my son is now worried that he's not going to be able to go to school with his friends,” Bell said.

Other parents said they’d be forced to choose between keeping their children in their magnet schools or finding new jobs.

“I work at Ford Motor Company,” Central parent Jennifer Pierce said. “The line is not going to stop at work just so I can bring my kid back and forth to school.”

TARC has been presented by some district leaders as a possible option for older magnet school students. But Pierce said the nearest stop is more than a mile from her home, and the route has 100 stops before it gets to Central.

Academy @ Shawnee parent Mitzi Wilson opposes transportation cuts as well. But if the board moves forward, she’s prepared to offer rides to neighborhood kids.

“I am available if anybody needs a ride — need their kids to get to school. You can look me up on Facebook,” she said.

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