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No transportation cuts for now: Jefferson Co. Board of Education tables major vote

A crowd of mostly Black young people gathers outside a government building.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Opponents of magnet transportation cuts wait to be let inside for the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting on March 26, 2024. The meeting space, which has a capacity of 142 people, could not accommodate the public.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted to delay a decision on whether to cut transportation for thousands of magnet and traditional school students next year.

Transportation for magnet and traditional school students in Jefferson County Public Schools dodged the ax Tuesday night — at least for now.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted 6-1 to table a decision on a proposal to cut transportation for 16,000 students in magnet programs and traditional schools. That was the recommendation from JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio who, along with top staff, have been presenting the cuts for months as the only solution to the district’s transportation woes.

The vote came after about an hour and a half of public comment — the vast majority of which was from parents, students and community members opposed to cutting transportation.

But what seemed to sway board members most was a presentation from the independent auditor behind a scathing report on the failures that led to the Aug. 9 transportation snafu.

Tatia Prieto, founder of the auditing consultant Prismatic Services Inc., warned the board against proceeding with the transportation cuts, saying she believes JCPS can significantly reduce delays without taking away services from students next year.

“It is possible,” Prieto said to applause from the members of the public present.

The board plans to vote on a transportation fix at its April 16 meeting. That’s also when board members plan to question top JCPS staff about the troubling findings of the independent audit.

District 3 board member James Craig was the only member who voted against the delay.

“We are setting ourselves up for a repeat,” Craig said after the vote.

But District 1 member Gail Strange disagreed.

“I’d rather us take the due diligence rather than a knee-jerk reaction and decimate some schools,” Strange said.

Public speaks out

During the hour and a half of public comment, dozens of people spoke out against the proposed cuts.

“The transportation plan marginalizes multiple student groups,” Central High School ninth grader Louisa Sarpee said.

“Leadership should amend the transportation proposal to include transportation for all magnet school students.”

Sarpee also called on JCPS to release all the Racial Equity Analysis Protocols, or REAPs, conducted on the plan. The district claimed late last week that the plan passed the racial fairness test, but as uncovered by LPM News, members of the community REAP committee said it didn’t pass their scrutiny.

LPM later obtained documents showing the plan passed another REAP committee made up of JCPS higher-ups.

Several Black leaders said the district and the board had broken trust with the community.

Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham noted that JCPS and its board had promised the civil rights group and other Black leaders that the district would not cut transportation services as a result of the student assignment overhaul approved in 2022.

“Now, you are reneging on that promise,” Cunningham said. “That brings up a trust issue.”

Louisville NAACP member Benny Ivory told the board that a vote for transportation cuts “will represent a complete abdication of your responsibilities and a complete betrayal of the public's trust.”

“That will be your legacy. The NAACP will make sure the public knows,” Ivory warned.

While Ivory and others spoke, dozens of people waited in the parking lot clamoring to be let inside. The board held the meeting in its typical room, which has a maximum capacity of 142 people.

Staff opened an overflow room that allowed in another 34 members of the public, but many never made it into the building.

Auditor presentation shifts the tide

Going into the meeting, several board members had already suggested they planned to support Pollio’s recommendation to cut magnet and traditional transportation. At the opening of the meeting, JCBE Chair Corrie Shull told the public that the board may consider a version of the cuts that maintained transportation for Central High School, whose community has been the most active in opposing the cuts.

But during the presentation by Prismatic’s Prieto, members asked questions that suggested they were convinced by her arguments that to move forward with the proposal may be yet another mistake.

Prieto told members that one significant contributor to the failures of Aug. 9 was that the board was not as informed as it should have been on JCPS staff proposals. That same lack of information extended to the proposal members were to vote on that night, which Prieto called “short on details I’d want to know the answer to.”

“I question the need to make that drastic cut now,” she said. She argued that JCPS can “take a large swack” out of the instructional minutes students are currently losing to delays without cutting transportation services.

Some solutions, Prieto said, were offered to top JCPS staff as early as November by Prismatic. But she said those fixes haven’t been “holistically analyzed” by the district.

“But I do still believe there's time,” she said.

That convinced a majority of board members to hold off on the decision, but not Craig.

“We are going to delay another three weeks a decision that is critical for the first day of school. We may be setting ourselves up for another failure,” Craig told LPM. Craig also said he found it “problematic” that top staff, including Pollio, were not given the opportunity to respond to the findings of the audit during the meeting.

While District 5 member Linda Duncan voted in favor of the delay, she told LPM she wasn’t convinced staff had enough time to find a different solution, or that Prieto’s analysis was fully accurate.

Duncan said the same proposal to cut magnet and traditional transportation “may very well” be presented again for a vote on April 16.

Pollio did not make himself available to reporters who waited for the typical post-meeting news conference. Instead, he left through the back door of the VanHoose Education Center.

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