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After a rocky year, ten people vie for spots on JCPS’ school board

Voters cast their ballots on Election Day 2020 at Iroquois High School.
Stephanie Wolf
Voters cast their ballots on Election Day 2020 at Iroquois High School.

LPM News contacted all 10 candidates running for the Jefferson County Board of Education. Here’s who they are and what they have to say about transportation.

Ten people will contend for a spot on the Jefferson County Board of Education this November.

The nonpartisan races will fill seats in districts 1, 2, 4 and 7. Two incumbents — Joe Marshall of District 4 and Sarah Cole McIntosh of District 7 — will not seek reelection.

The election follows a chaotic year for Jefferson County Public Schools. Transportation issues sparked by a bus driver shortage and ramshackle transportation plan plagued the district from the beginning.

The school board was at the forefront of the fallout, drawing waves of criticism for a lack of transparency and impulse decision making during a series of meetings held in an attempt to address the transportation problems. The board ultimately voted to end busing to all but four of the district’s magnet and traditional schools and programs, a decision that could leave more than 16,000 of students without a dependable way to get to school.

LPM News reached out to all 10 candidates who met the filing deadline. Here’s what they had to say about why they’re running and where they stand when it comes to the transportation issue.

Find your school board district by entering your address at this JCPS webpage.

The general election is Nov. 5. The deadline to register to vote in Kentucky is Oct. 7.

District 1

Mark Gatton told LPM News he has served in the military, law enforcement, security and has worked as a counselor in several group homes for children. Gatton, a JCPS graduate, said he was inspired to run for school board after his godson lost transportation to his magnet high school across town.

Gatton said he believes the district’s transportation problems can be solved by ending cross-county busing for kids that are in “under-performing schools” and assigning them to schools closer to home.

Under the vestiges of a 1975 racial integration plan, JCPS allows students in the city’s predominantly Black West End the choice to attend school in more affluent, mostly white neighborhoods across town.

“My thing is now, you know, this is 30 years later, 40 years later, and why don't they fix the schools that are broken?” he said.

Gatton said he thought some teachers should be paid better, but added that “the first thing you got to do is get rid of the teachers that can't teach.”

Gatton also said he thinks students need to be held more accountable for disciplinary issues.

Gail Logan Strange is the current District 1 representative on the school board. The board appointed her to fill the seat late last year after longtime board chair Diane Porter resigned for health reasons. Strange is the former director of mission communications for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

Strange said she has one grandchild in JCPS, along with several great-nieces and great-nephews. Her own child attended private school.

Strange said her top priority is to advocate for students in District 1, who she said “are often overlooked and often marginalized, and there seems to be lower expectations.”

District 1 encompasses most of west Louisville and downtown, and parts of Smoketown, Clifton and Crescent Hill.

Strange did not vote for cuts to magnet and traditional school transportation at a contentious meeting in April. Strange told LPM that going forward she wants more transparency from JCPS staff members.

“You really have to ask a lot of questions of district staff to make sure that you're getting as much complete information and as much accurate information as possible to make an informed decision,” she said.

She also said that top district officials dismissed her suggestion at a board meeting early this year that the district consider collaborating with TARC. The transit authority and JCPS announced this week that they’ve worked out a deal to move 70 TARC bus drivers to school bus routes to stave off pending transportation service cuts. Talks between JCPS and TARC didn’t begin in earnest until April.

“Perhaps we could have been more proactive in coming up with the partnership that we're working with now with TARC. And it would have caused a whole lot less consternation,” she said.

District 2

Abby Berthold is a former middle and high school math teacher for JCPS and currently works in instructional design. JCPS has no contracts with her company, she said.

Berthold said she wanted to bring her viewpoint as a former teacher to the board, “and just some logical thinking.” She said recent board meetings about transportation issues “felt like we were, I guess, bickering — not focused on a common goal or an outcome.”

Berthold said she didn’t know if she would have supported the board’s decision to end magnet and traditional school transportation.

“I knew that there had to be a decision to be made,” she said. “Was this the best one? Honestly, I can't say because I haven't been able to even look at everything except for what they publicly released.”

If elected, Berthold said her top priorities would be student outcomes and community engagement. She said many community members are willing and ready to partner with the district on solutions, “but continually butt up against walls or dead ends.”

Chris Kolb is a professor at Spalding University and JCPS parent who was first elected to the board in 2016 and reelected in 2020. During his tenure, the board ousted one superintendent, Donna Hargens, and hired another — Marty Pollio. Kolb counted the board’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic among his accomplishments during his last term.

“I’m really proud that we, I think, kept a lot of people safe in a way that has helped students be able to get back to, you know, something resembling normal fairly quickly,” he said.

Kolb also said he’s proud of the district’s work around equity, mental health support, goal setting and efforts to find new ways to measure student learning, such as the Backpack of Success Skills.

Kolb has also drawn sharp criticism and calls to resign from community members, including leaders of the Louisville NAACP, over how he handled the transportation crisis. Kolb was one of three members who called a surprise April 10 meeting to push through the transportation cuts.

He’s also come under fire for an open letter he wrote admonishing principals who opposed a staff recommendation for new school start times.

Kolb is facing two challengers in his district that spans the Highlands, St. Matthews and Hikes Point. Asked if he thinks the transportation issue is going to make this a tough race for him, Kolb said he had “no idea.”

“Nobody's happy about what's going on with transportation, but it's just the reality that we have to deal with,” Kolb said. “I found quite a number of people that are understanding the choices that we've been forced to make.”

Tricia Lister is a criminal appeals attorney, JCPS graduate and mother of three JCPS graduates. She’s also served on the Site Based-Decision Making Council at the Brown School, where her children attended. Lister told LPM she has long considered running for school board, but finally decided to put her hat in the ring after the district’s transportation fiasco.

“When I saw the struggles they’re having with the school buses, and with being transparent and — frankly, being functional — I thought it was time to step in,” Lister said.

Lister said she was particularly concerned by the optics of the April 10 meeting and the way the vote to end magnet and traditional school transportation broke down across racial lines, with all three Black board members voting against the cuts, and all four white members voting for the cuts.

“I just think the visual is one that indicates that they weren't working together as a board, and there's something really wrong,” Lister said.

Asked how she would have voted, Lister said she didn’t know.

This is the second time Lister has run for office. She made an unsuccessful bid for the Kentucky Court of Appeals 4th District in 2022, taking 41% of the vote.

District 4

Trevin Bass is the parent of two current JCPS elementary school students, a former PTA president at Schaffner Elementary and a JCPS graduate, himself. Bass works for the Louisville Metro Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and is the former legislative assistant for Louisville Metro Council’s District 3.

Bass said his top priorities would be addressing the district’s transportation issues and helping students make up for learning opportunities they missed out on during the height of the pandemic.

“We have a lot of students that are still behind due to COVID. So one of my big things is to try to get the babies back on to that level,” he said.

Bass said if he were on the board earlier this year, he would have tabled the discussion on cutting magnet and traditional school transportation. But said “if he had to vote,” he would have supported the cuts, “just for the sake of the students who don't have transportation and go to the neighborhood schools.”

Incumbent Joe Marshall did not file to run for re-election.

Barbara Lewis is a youth service center coordinator at Valley High School in JCPS. Lewis told LPM she loves her job, but feels “a pulling to go higher, because I see all of the issues that we’re constantly battling in JCPS.”

Under state law, district employees are not allowed to serve on the school boards that employ them. Lewis said if elected, she would resign from her position at Valley High before taking office in January 2025.

Her top priorities would be to review school curricula to make sure that it is “up to par,” along with the professional development and training educators are receiving. Transportation is also a major concern for Lewis, who said she would not have supported the board’s April decision to cut transportation for magnet school and traditional program students.

Lewis said she believes the district can resolve the transportation issues by involving the community in the solution, and cutting “red tape” that prevents nonprofits and churches from providing transportation.

Lewis says her daughter is a JCPS graduate who also works at Valley High School. Her other three children graduated from private schools.

Destiny Livers is a former JCPS teacher. Livers did not respond to requests for comment from LPM.

On her Instagram account, Livers described herself as a “dedicated equity advocate and educator.”

“With my background in education and community leadership, I am confident in my ability to foster solutions that provide every student with an equitable education,” she wrote in a June 5 post announcing her candidacy.

District 7

Taylor Everett is the parent of a JCPS high school student. His wife is a former JCPS teacher, which Everett said gave him a “firsthand look at some of the things that are good. And some of the things that are bad.”

Everett said his top priority is to address the staffing issues in JCPS. The district is facing a dire shortage not only of bus drivers, but also teachers, substitutes, custodians and other support staff. Everett oversees government contracts for Eight Eleven, a staffing group. The company does not have any contracts with JCPS, according to Everett.

Asked about the board’s recent vote to cut magnet and traditional school transportation, Everett said he believed the board made “a really tough decision that had to be made.” However, he said he thought the board could have been more “proactive” as members saw bus driver numbers decline year over year.

Everett ran as an Independent for Louisville Mayor in the 2022 election, taking less than 600 votes.

District 7 incumbent Sarah Cole McIntosh is not seeking re-election.

Mersida Mimms did not respond to LPM before our deadline. The address she provided to the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office is located in District 5, not District 7.

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

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