Hundreds pack JCPS board meeting to protest proposed changes
A week of about 140 walk-ins and protests led to this. Extra security was on-hand Tuesday as hundreds of JCPS teachers, parents, bus drivers and more tried to make their voices heard.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A week of about 140 walk-ins and protests led to a three-hour rally and a packed house at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
Extra security was on-hand as hundreds of JCPS teachers, parents, bus drivers and more tried to make their voices heard.
Among the earliest protesters: retired teachers and employees who arrived at 9 a.m. and immediately took Superintendent Donna Hargens to task.
"She came into a school district where we all loved our jobs, now you have teachers running from their jobs," said Candace Foster, who retired from Shelby Elementary two years ago. "Subs quitting, nobody wants to do it. I don't mind telling anyone, don't come to Jefferson County. If you want to teach and enjoy your job, don't come here."
"It's not about kids like she (Hargens) says. It's about her own agenda," Foster said. "I'm retired and I don't mind saying it."
Many of the protesters said they are angry over proposed changes to the student code of conduct that would reduce punishments and a proposal freezing pay for JCPS employees earning more than $14 an hour.
Throughout the afternoon -- at times in pouring down rain -- more and and more people joined. They lined Newburg Road and Bishop Lane, prompting motorists to honk their horns in support.
For hours, they chanted and held signs that read: "Parents, Teachers, Students United" and "Support Our Schools and Staff." Other signs were directed at Hargens and other top-paid administrators.
One parent was so upset he started an online petition seeking the removal of Superintendent Donna Hargens.
"Five days, over 5,000 people have shown that they're gravely concerned for the direction of our education system," said Tim Druck, who started the petition. "I think that's something that can no longer be and had been officially ignored."
Though the code of conduct and a potential pay freeze were not on the school board's agenda, people outside moved inside.
The auditorium was filled, as well as two extra rooms. Some people were even left standing in the hall.
School board chairman David Jones Jr. began the meeting with a statement saying the past two weeks have been difficult for the board.
"We all feel distressed that our teachers feel unwanted, and that's not true," school board chairman David Jones Jr. said. "We know our system of discipline must be improved. In past few weeks, we’ve heard from hundreds, if not thousands, of people."
Jones said the school board is "not content with the academic results, school climate and discipline."
In her report to the board, Hargens began by expressing her "appreciation for each stakeholder who provided feedback in the last two weeks."
"I would also like to thank the teachers, administrators, and parents that I spoke with during my visits to schools," she said. "These conversations are what public education is about. I am grateful. I am proud to stand up for the importance of public education."
"Someone told me this weekend that I am a 'flashlight' shining light on issues and asking questions about what is, so that we can work together to improve the current reality and get to what could be," Hargens said.
Hargens claimed any panic by the community is caused by "misinformation."
"There has been no recommendation about salaries, and there has been no recommendation about the code of conduct," she said. "So it's important that people have accurate information."
However, when she was asked why the word "recommendation" was used in a report JCPS chief business officer Tom Hudson presented to the school board on April 26, Hargens could not say.
"It should have been subject to negotiations," she said. "Salary is always a negotiated item."
Hargens also touted transparency and when asked if there is a morale problem in JCPS, she didn't say yes or no.
"Everyone works incredibly hard for the students of this district," she said. "It's hard when you work so hard to not be recognized."
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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