LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The finalists to become the next Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent shared their visions for the district during the first of four public forums Thursday, answering questions on school safety, equality in JCPS schools, getting more minority teachers in classrooms and other topics.

Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio and Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor took questions – some from the audience of more than 70 and some from a group of students on stage – for more than an hour at Central High School.

Each has been complimentary of the other since they were named finalists for the district’s top job Jan. 9, but Thursday’s offered them an opportunity to differentiate themselves and, at times, disagree.

When asked about improving JCPS schools, classrooms and other facilities, Raisor said the district could shutter more than 20 schools and support facilities and still have enough space for current students with room for more than 15 percent growth.

That would save JCPS “hundreds of millions of dollars” over a five-year period, he said.

“That hundreds of millions of dollars will allow us to build new schools,” Raisor said. “It will allow us to fully fund departments. It will completely negate every employee shortage we have. We can fully invest in deeper learning. We can fully invest in everything we say we believe in.

“Now I realize that’s a shocking statement, but what I can tell you as the guy who does the job every day, we’re never going to dig out of this.”

Pollio didn’t suggest closing any buildings in his response, instead saying the district has the bonding capacity to build new schools and renovate those most in need.

“As Dr. Raisor said, it’s going to require significant investment,” Pollio said. “I believe we’re going to have the bonding capacity we need to do this this summer. I think we need to look more towards all throughout town.”

“I believe in the power of brand-new facilities and children being in top-notch facilities that are brand new, shiny and clean,” he added. “I believe in a new school in the south end, and obviously I believe in a school in the east end and obviously fixing and repairing the problems that we have in our neediest areas of town.”

The two also clashed in their responses to a question on ensuring student success in Louisville’s urban and suburban schools.

Pollio said he would like to see equal access to high-quality programs throughout the district, pointing to a recent vote by the Jefferson County Board of Education to provide funding for art and music education in every JCPS elementary school.

He also mentioned the district’s development of an initiative that tracks student progress from kindergarten to graduation to make sure they’re getting the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.

“That includes literacy and numeracy and other academic skills, but it also includes what we call the success skills like persistence, creativity, collaboration, all of those things that kids need to be successful in life,” Pollio said, adding his belief that the system will be seen as a national model.

Raisor called Pollio’s response “the most wonderful vision that we can’t afford.”

“We have trouble with equality,” he said, noting that the district has $65 million in school budget requests that JCPS will need to deny. “We can barely get kids to school every day.”

While the two disagreed on points at times, there were several areas of agreement.

Both said school safety was a top priority when asked about the balance between students’ safety, in light of Tuesday’s shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky, and students’ rights, in light of a November incident at Jeffersontown High School in which a police officer used a Taser on a student during a scuffle.

Raisor said he would like to see more staff dedicated to student behavior, and although he sees the benefit of partnering with law enforcement, Raisor said that may not always be the case inside schools.

“Inside the school we need a safe support network around our students,” he said. “I’ve visited schools and school districts where this model is in place, and that’s what I would like to have inside ours – people who are concerned with the safety and wellbeing of our students while keeping a partnership with law enforcement to keep our schools safe from things coming in from the outside.”

Pollio didn’t address police presence in schools, but he said student safety starts with faculty and staff.

“Under no circumstances can we ever anywhere guarantee 100 percent safety, but what we have to do is ensure that we do everything to absolutely mitigate or minimize any potential for a safety hazard for our students,” he said. “And what that requires is adults and professionalism and commitment and passion for the safety of all of our children at all times.”

Raisor and Pollio will meet again at three more forums before the school board decides who will be the next JCPS superintendent, with the next scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Gheens Academy. The board is set to decide by March 1 on the replacement for former Superintendent Donna Hargens, who resigned July 1.

Jean Taylor, who was among the 70 at Central High School Thursday, said she was impressed by both finalists and would be happy with either Pollio or Raisor in the district’s top post, especially since both support early childhood education.

“I guess we’re going to either way because they really seem to be on the same track in regards to what our needs are in the communities, not just the west end where I’m from but across the board,” she told WDRB News.

But Ella Logan disagreed, saying she preferred Pollio over Raisor as the next JCPS superintendent.

“I think that Dr. Pollio is more of an innovator,” said Logan, who has two great-grandchildren in JCPS. “I think that he is somebody that doesn’t just take no for an answer. I think he seeks ways to do things in a different way.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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