JCPS board members raise concerns over possible misuse of state - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS board members raise concerns over possible misuse of state funds

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Board member Stephanie Horne speaks at the board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Board member Stephanie Horne speaks at the board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some Jefferson County Public Schools board members are raising questions about the district potentially misusing Every 1 Reads funds after a WDRB investigation.

At least three board members say they want more transparency and communication from Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Board Members Linda Duncan, Chris Brady and Stephanie Horne brought up their concerns over the Every 1 Reads program Tuesday night -- the first board meeting since WDRB uncovered a possible misuse of funds.

WDRB found that millions of dollars from the Every 1 Reads program has been spent on nurses since 2008-09.

"I would like to see those funds actually be utilized for reading and literacy," JCPS board member Stephanie Horne said. "And I want to see more transparency from the superintendent."

District officials have defended how the money was spent and tracked, saying it uploaded quarterly reports to the Kentucky Department of Education through MUNIS, the state's data collection and storage system.

Officials at the Kentucky Department of Education, as well as several Louisville-area lawmakers have told WDRB News they were surprised to learn that the Every 1 Reads funds were diverted by JCPS to nurses in 2008.

Kentucky Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Hal Heiner also says he has "serious concerns" and has spoken with Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon about it.

"It comes down to what those funds were intended for," Heiner said. "Many legislators know what Every 1 Reads is for and from what JCPS is currently saying, they took maybe as much as $4 million for one purpose and used it for a completely different purpose. Any misuse of public funds, that's a very serious issue." 

Every 1 Reads was once a vibrant community-wide program designed to help get JCPS elementary students reading on grade level. 

The program still exists at about half of the district’s elementary schools. But today's Every 1 Reads is merely a shadow of the broad effort that once involved about 10,000 volunteers in the mid-2000s.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, maintains that the state knew – or should have known – that the money has been used for nurse-related costs since the 2008-09 fiscal year, when former Superintendent Sheldon Berman informed the school board that the program would continue under the name “Every 1 Reads More.”

Hargens told the board that "MUNIS reports to the (state) said Every 1 Reads/Nurses."

Duncan said the MUNIS report might have said nurses and that while the JCPS board knew the money had been diverted, the state did not because the budget line simply states Every 1 Reads.

Duncan also mentioned she thought it was odd for the district to announce a re-launch of the Every 1 Reads program in 2013, under Hargens, but that there was no mention of nurses.

Brady said he'd like to know "how the breakdown in communication" between JCPS and the state over the Every 1 Reads money occurred.

"I don't want the district to lose trust with the community and I think that's the space we are in right now," Brady said. "I want to make sure we're doing everything in our power to say, 'Look, we're as upfront as we can be on anything and we want to make sure we don't repeat this mistake, if there was a mistake."

But school board chairman David Jones Jr. said he doesn't think the board "should spend time on a $420,000 line item" in the state budget.

"There is a lot of data involved with this whole kerfuffle here," Jones said during the meeting, adding that the idea that the shift of Every 1 Reads to include nurses was a secret is "preposterous."

After the meeting, Jones clarified his comments about the money.

"It's not that $400,000 or $500,000 is not important, it is important," Jones said. "What I'm saying is we should not pause what we are doing to go back and review what happened seven years ago."

He added that "something wrong happened in 2008-09."

"What are we going to do? Go back & fire (then) Superintendent Sheldon Berman? He doesn't work here anymore," Jones said.

"I think we need to keep eye on the prize and not have a fight about nurses vs. reading," he said.

But Duncan and Horne said that Hargens has been in charge since 2011 and there should have been more transparency on her part.

When asked for a comment after the meeting, Hargens walked by a WDRB reporter and Martin said no.

"We've already talked to you about this," Martin said.

Another attempt by a reporter to ask Hargens if she thought there was a transparency problem in the district was unsuccessful. 

Horne said Hargens and the district "must have more transparency" in regards to budgeting and the Every 1 Reads issue.

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(Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB news. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.)

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