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At last-minute board meeting, JCPS cuts magnet transportation for all but four schools

Members of the public rise from their seats to speak out against magnet transportation cuts at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday
Jess Clark
Members of the public rise from their seats to speak out against magnet transportation cuts at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday

In a split vote, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to cut transportation to all magnet and traditional schools except four majority-Black magnets.

After hours of contentious debate between board members, school district staff and members of the public, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 to cut transportation to all traditional and magnet schools and programs except Central High School, Western High School, Grace James Academy of Excellence and W.E.B. DuBois Academy.

The fractured board held the surprise meeting Tuesday night, after three members split off from the direction of JCBE Chair Corrie Shull — who wanted to wait until April 16 to decide on the transportation plan — and called the special meeting.

The meeting was not supposed to have public comment, but that didn’t stop dozens of people from filling the board room and overflow area at the VanHoose Education Center to voice their opposition.

F. Bruce Williams, pastor of Bates Memorial Baptist Church, rose from his chair in the audience to call the last-minute vote a “slap in the face” to the community.

He also noted that the proposals were not made public until the day of the vote.

“We want to know why we can’t speak, and why we’re just hearing about some plans we don’t even know about. It’s not acceptable, it’s not right and it’s not just,” Williams said.

Shull, of District 6, allowed the public to chime in from the rows of chairs, though he was asked by District 3 board member James Craig whether he was going to “take control of his meeting.”

Presentations by operations and transportation staff were also interrupted by representatives of the Louisville Urban League and even some of JCPS’ own staff who opposed the hastily called meeting.

The board vote was split along racial lines, with all three Black members voting against the cuts. The board’s four white members voted in favor: Craig, Linda Duncan of District 5, Chris Kolb of District 2 and Sarah Cole McIntosh of District 7.

“I cannot sit on this vote any longer knowing that we are depriving 30,000 kids of instructional time,” Kolb said.

Thousands of JCPS students are missing instructional time daily due to delays. Those delays are the result of a bus driver shortage and a botched transportation overhaul.

An investigation by LPM News found Black students, low-income students and other students of color are missing the most instructional time. That reality was cited by JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and other staff as a reason to move forward with cutting magnet transportation.

“We have a lot of kids out there … that are missing instructional time, and they are not part of the magnet and traditional program, and I don’t want to forget those kids,” Duncan said.

Duncan, Craig, Kolb and McIntosh were swayed by assertions from JCPS operations and transportation staff that they needed a decision as soon as possible.

“I hate this vote,” Craig said. “I do not want the kids at any of our schools to suffer. But we are making them suffer today … and it would be wholly negligent — when our transportation department is telling us that they need a decision to get this right next year — for us to continue to sit on our hands.”

Meanwhile, Shull, District 4 member Joe Marshall and District 1 member Gail Strange thought there should be more time for public input.

“I know you guys are working hard,” Strange told JCPS staff. “But is it the right work?”

In a line of questioning by Shull, JCPS Chief Operations Officer Rob Fulk admitted that school boundary lines may need to be changed to accommodate the estimated 25% of magnet students that will have to return to their “resides” or home schools, because they don’t have transportation. JCPS Chief of Schools Robert Moore also admitted that the student assignment office had not been brought into planning.

The revelation comes on the heels of a blistering audit that was presented at last month’s board meeting, which found that one reason for the busing snafu was that higher-ups did not include relevant departments in crafting the proposal.

Marshall, who was one of the members to convene the special meeting, called the exclusion of the student assignment office a “huge misstep.”

Shull noted that the board passed the student assignment overhaul in 2022 with the promise that students would have more choices, not fewer.

“My concern about this transportation plan is that it makes this Board of Education out to be liars,” he said.

The plan board members approved allows transportation to students who attend their resides school. It also maintains transportation for students facing homelessness, all students who have transportation accommodations included in their special education plan, and students at alternative schools. Alternative schools include Grace James Academy of Excellence and W.E.B. DuBois Academy, which are also considered magnet schools.

The only other magnet schools that will be provided transportation are Central High School and Western High School.

All other magnet and traditional schools will see their transportation cut. Transportation will also be cut for magnet programs, including for students who attend high school “academies” that aren’t in their resides school.

The plan also consolidates the current nine start times to three: 7:30 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:40 a.m.

The vote followed calls by the Louisville NAACP for Pollio to resign or be dismissed, along with board members who supported the magnet cuts.

Louisville NAACP First Vice President Raymond Burse said the civil rights group will be working to remove board members at the ballot box. He also suggested the NAACP may pursue legal action against the board.

“Some of [the board members] have already acknowledged that what they did is inequitable, which means it’s going to have an adverse impact on Black, Brown and poor kids,” Burse said.

“Issues like that – it often gets solved in court proceedings. So we're going to look at all of our options."

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

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