KONZ | Lack of stability in JCPS communications, human resources - WDRB 41 Louisville News

KONZ | Lack of stability in JCPS communications, human resources remains an issue for Donna Hargens

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (March 9, 2015) Photo by Toni Konz JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (March 9, 2015) Photo by Toni Konz
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Another central office shakeup in Jefferson County Public Schools has left the district's top communications officer without a job and means that Superintendent Donna Hargens will once again be searching to fill a position that has been plagued with inconsistency over the past three years.

Hargens notified chief communications and community relations officer Helene Kramer on Wednesday that her one-year contract was not being renewed. Kramer has been reassigned to another JCPS office until her contract expires June 30.

The move comes after two other communications staff members -- Ben Jackey and Mandy Simpson -- announced their resignations on separate days last week upon taking jobs elsewhere. Simpson notified the district on April 29 of her plans to leave effective May 22; while Jackey submitted his letter of resignation on Friday, effective immediately.

Hargens has not returned repeated calls and text messages from WDRB for comment. 

Sources tell WDRB News that Hargens has asked former communications director Stephanie Bateman to come back and help on an interim basis, but neither Bateman nor the district would confirm that on Wednesday. Bateman retired from JCPS in 2012 after 33 years with the district.

Kramer is the second high-ranking position in JCPS to not have her contract renewed in recent weeks. Mark Rosen, the district's human resources director, was notified by Hargens on April 22 that his one-year contract was not being renewed. 

The shakeup in central office comes as the Jefferson County Board of Education has repeatedly asked Hargens to improve both internal and external communications in the district, as well as give her "immediate attention" to the human resources department.

During her last evaluation in June, board members said they wanted to see "focused efforts to proactively communicate, externally and internally, with our community the accomplishments of JCPS students and the extraordinary work of JCPS staff."

Board members also told Hargens that fixing human resources needed to be a top priority.

Several board members told WDRB News Wednesday night that they are concerned with the lack of stability.

"I applaud Dr. Hargens for realizing that what we have had isn't working and that changes need to be made," board member Chris Brady said. "That being said, this gap in our communications department concerns me -- I would like to see some stability."

Board member Linda Duncan was the only one to vote against extending Hargens' employment contract in February over several concerns -- among them, Duncan said she wanted to see more evidence that Hargens has improved communication, collaboration and district morale.

"Communications continues to be a concern because our school population needs to have first hand information about changes and approaching changes," Duncan told WDRB News on Thursday. "The public also needs some kind of warning before these things happen."

Duncan said despite the fact that JCPS has spent the "past several years" trying to improve communications, "we still don't have the leadership we need that directs that kind of communication so that everyone feels comfortable."

The communications department has been the subject of restructuring and turnover since 2012, when Hargens froze or eliminated 89 central office positions as part of an administrative reorganization.

Kramer, who was named chief communications and community relations officer last August, was the subject of one district investigation last fall centered around making inappropriate comments about another employee. 

Sources tell WDRB News that Kramer is also the subject of another investigation, this time involving the disclosure of confidential information. Because that investigation is pending, no details have been provided to WDRB.

Kramer, who makes $127,698 annually, replaced Christi Lanier-Robinson, whose two-year contract was not renewed by JCPS in 2014. Kramer had previously been on thin ice in her role as a spokeswoman for Louisville Metro Police more than a decade ago. 

In March 2012, Hargens announced the hiring of Jamilah Fraser, a former chief communications officer with the Philadelphia Public School District, to be the district's chief diversity, community relations and communications officer.

However, after questions were raised about Fraser's background and qualifications, Fraser sent a letter to Hargens saying she would not accept the job.

In May 2012, Hargens announced that longtime district spokeswoman Lauren Roberts' position as public information officer was being eliminated. Roberts, who made $129,000, took a $10,000 pay cut and was given a job in the district's human resources department. She was fired two months later.

It was later revealed in a WDRB investigation that JCPS paid Roberts $200,000 in August 2013 to settle a dispute over how she left the district. As part of that settlement, Roberts' firing was supposed to be changed to a resignation, but school board wasn't made aware of the settlement or change until last fall. 

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Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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