JCPS on budget: 'We've done a horrible job communicating with pr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS on budget: 'We've done a horrible job communicating with principals'

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Standing in a room filled with dozens of Jefferson County Public Schools principals, the district's chief business officer admitted he did a "horrible job communicating" with them about two proposals that will likely cut their funding.

"We all don't agree with one another, but we agree on one thing and that's taking care of our kids," said Tom Hudson during a 30-minute work session Monday with the Jefferson County Board of Education. "It's clear we overshot when we went to the first model. Now, we are trying to back off and look at something that seems reasonable."

The first model Hudson is referring to is the initial plan he presented to the school board in December that could have shifted as many as 280 teachers to other programs and schools and increase class sizes by as many as three students in grades 4-12.

That plan was presented to the board without telling any of the district's principals -- many of whom found out about it through media coverage -- and caused them to panic about losing teachers and funding.

On Saturday, Hudson sent out a revised proposal to principals that scaled back on the initial plan.

The new proposal would keep the district's teacher funding allocation capped at one teacher per 24 students in grades K-3, but it would increase by one student across all other grades. Fourth and fifth grade allocations would increase from 24-1 to 25-1, while sixth through twelfth grades would increase from 28-1 to 29-1.

Officials say increasing the class size by one student in 4-12th grade classrooms would mean about $5.5 million in teaching resources that could be used elsewhere, although Superintendent Donna Hargens has maintained that the goal of the proposal is not to save money, but to "deploy teachers where we need them the most."

"Our job is to put dollars and resources into our schools," Superintendent Donna Hargens said Monday night, adding that the proposal was "not meant to be disrespectful."

"We are trying to find out what is working well in our district and what is not working well," she said. "And it's not that we don't want to have the dialogue...it's that we didn't have time for the dialogue."

Hudson, who took over as the district's chief business officer in November, said in order to achieve the objectives outlined in the district's new strategic plan, JCPS funding allocations must change.

"And this must be done in a way as to not damage our centers of excellence while we remediate our underperforming schools," he said.

But along with scaling back on the initial proposal, Hudson also unveiled two other things principals were not aware of:

  • The possibility of eliminating assistant principals at some of the district's smaller elementary schools 
  • Cutting the number of work days by elementary counselors; instead of having seven additional work days, the counselors would have four -- a cost savings of $150,700.

Officials say the reductions don't necessarily mean the schools will lose teachers, just the funding that is associated with those positions and that the schools can try to find savings elsewhere.

For example, under this plan, large schools like Ballard High would lose approximately $186,000 in funds -- the equivalent of three teaching positions.

Allyson Vitato, principal of Breckinridge Franklin Elementary School, was one of about 50 principals who attended Monday's meeting.

None of them were asked to be there, they attended because they are concerned about funding.

"We care about our schools and want what's best for the entire district," Vitato said. "As principals, we are together as an entire group."

Vitato also talked about the important role that assistant principals play in elementary schools.

"They are an instructional leader at the school," she said. "They provide feedback to teachers, talk to parents...they are absolutely an integral part of every elementary school, regardless of the size of the school."

"I cannot imagine life without my assistant principal," she said.

According to data pulled by WDRB, if JCPS were to eliminate assistant principals at the 51 elementary schools that have less than 500 students, it could save approximately $4.5 million. If the district were to eliminate assistant principals at the 11 elementary schools that have less than 400 students, it could save approximately $1 million.

School board members were receptive to comments made by Hudson, but also questioned taking the flexibility away from principals and site-based councils to staff schools as they see fit.

"To me, the principals know what the best need is in their schools," said board member Chuck Haddaway.

School board chairman David Jones Jr. said in order to get different results, "we must do different things."

The funding allocations will be up for school board approval on Jan. 26.

Principals are expected to receive their school's allocation on Feb. 2 and Hudson said they will have until Feb. 17 to alert the district "if they think something is wrong."

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

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