Dozens call for JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens to resign - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Dozens call for JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens to resign

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens at a school board meeting in June 2016. (WDRB News file photo) JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens at a school board meeting in June 2016. (WDRB News file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Dozens of parents, teachers and community members rallied before Tuesday night's school board meeting, calling for Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens to resign.

During the rally, which was organized by community group Dear JCPS, protesters issued a vote of "no confidence" in Hargens' ability to continue to lead the nation's 28th largest school district.

"We do not feel the superintendent is equipped to guide our district going forward,"  the group said in a Facebook event posting for the rally. "Our kids can not afford to wait any longer as our district continues in this downward spiral, which has paved the way for charter schools and overreaching bills such as the one to end busing that specifically targets our district and more recently resulted in a state audit and potential takeover."

The rally came exactly one week after Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt announced that the state will conduct an "unprecedented" full-scale audit of JCPS. Pruitt said Kentucky’s largest school district suffers from “critically ineffective and inefficient management."

Hargens has declined to answer specific questions about her support on the board and the community.

"I'm focused on Jefferson County Public Schools and students," she told reporters before the rally.

She has also repeatedly declined to comment about whether she has applied for other jobs and if she is committed to serving out the remainder of her contract, which runs through June 2019.

In his eight-page letter calling for the audit, Pruitt did not speak specifically about Hargens' leadership.

He said the decision to further scrutinize JCPS "is not about the leadership of one person." Instead, it's designed to "take a comprehensive look at the entire school district to find any systems and processes that are dysfunctional or broken."

However, Hargens' support in the community and among the seven-member school board has deteriorated in the past two years. Following the announcement of the management audit, at least five board members publicly expressed concerns about Hargens' leadership, with some calling for her removal

Indeed, Pruitt's announcement of a full-fledged management audit of JCPS is the latest turmoil Hargens has faced in her six years leading the district of more than 100,000 students.

JCPS has seen its share of academic struggles over the years. Recent test scores show that more than half of the district’s students are still not performing on grade level in reading and math. In addition, 21 schools -- including Fairdale High -- have been placed in “priority” status for chronically low test scores.

Concerns over academics are among the 32 findings outlined by Pruitt in his letter to Hargens. He noted that JCPS currently has 19 priority schools, including two schools identified in the current school year. 

Other concerns outlined in the letter that will need to be addressed include student safety, data integrity issues, poor communication, disproportionate punishments among certain groups of students, as well as other issues about transparency and overall culture in the district.

It is difficult -- and very rare -- for a superintendent's contract to be terminated in Kentucky, which is why organizers of Tuesday's rally asked for Hargens to submit her resignation.

"We ask that she please step down from her position immediately, and that the board appoint an interim superintendent who can fully cooperate with the state audit team and help get our district back on course," said Gay Adelmann, co-founder of Dear JCPS.

Under state law, a superintendent may be removed by a vote of four-fifths of the members of the school board and upon approval of the education commissioner. In Jefferson County, that would require six votes from its seven-member board.

Even then, "if the dismissal of the superintendent has been recommended," state law says "written notice setting out the charges for removal shall be spread on the minutes of the board and given to the superintendent."

The education commissioner would then "investigate the accuracy of the charges made, evaluate the superintendent's overall performance during the superintendent's appointment, and consider the educational performance of the students."

Bob Chenoweth, a Lawrenceburg attorney who has more than 40 years experience in school law, says although silent in the statute, a superintendent facing termination has the right to due process.

"The superintendent must be given an opportunity to respond to the charges and ask for a hearing before the school board," he said. 

While the school board can't  just "buy-out" the remainder of Hargens' contract, Chenoweth says there have been times when school boards and superintendents negotiate and come up with an independent contract for a certain period of time. It's happened at least twice in Fayette County, he says.

Over the past two months, the JCPS school board has met three times in executive session for discussions that "might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an employee" but in each of those cases, no action was taken.

The school board is expected to hold another executive session during Tuesday's meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m.

Check back with WDRB for more details on the meeting later tonight.

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

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