LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After about a week of trading their perspectives and ideas on a host of issues facing Jefferson County Public Schools, tensions between the finalists to become the district’s next leader bubbled over at times during the fourth and final superintendent forum Thursday.

Acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor traded subtle criticisms during the forum at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in front of an audience of more than 60.

Raisor, who often concentrated on the district’s finances in his answers during the four forums, said during his opening remarks Thursday that previous suggestions to build new schools, refurbish athletic facilities, expand staff and develop new programs in JCPS ignores the district’s fiscal constraints, although he didn’t mention Pollio by name.

“There have been various new programs proposed like it’s Oprah,” Raisor said, referring to the former daytime talk show hosted by Oprah Winfrey. “You get a program, you get a program, you get a program. The question tonight that I would like to ask, though, is how are we going to afford it?”

But it didn’t take long for Pollio to jab back.

Raisor said the public school system in Evansville, Ind., where he worked before joining JCPS as COO six years ago, invested in its poorest communities, career and technical education, technology and professional development to stop the expansion of charter schools “in their tracks.” That’s a proactive model JCPS should follow, he said.

“That was a lot of talk about investing when we don’t have money to invest, supposedly,” Pollio said in response, noting that the district brought in $20 million more in revenue than it had expenses last year, has $153 million in reserves and will have about $350 million in bonding capacity starting this summer.

“We have been put in a very positive position by our chief financial officer when many districts are struggling to meet payroll right now where we do have an opportunity to invest,” he added.

When the subject of boosting staff morale came up, Pollio said it’s on the rise after about half the district’s employees supported former Superintendent Donna Hargens and central office, where Raisor has worked since joining the district, according to survey.

Pollio, who was principal of Doss High School before the Jefferson County Board of Education selected him to serve as acting superintendent after Hargens resigned July 1, said that number is now around 80 percent during his seven months as interim.

“I think that was an incredibly bold move to not choose someone currently in central office but to choose a principal,” Pollio said. “… The reason I believe I was chosen is because morale was at an all-time low in JCPS.”

During his closing remarks, Pollio said he’s glad the school board is looking from within to fill the district’s top spot, noting that the last time that happened was in 1950 when a former JCPS principal, Richard VanHoose, took over as superintendent until 1974.

However, Raisor noted that VanHoose also had years of experience as a superintendent at another school district and assistant superintendent at JCPS before he took over the district’s top job.

“Richard VanHoose, like myself, worked in three separate school districts,” Raisor said. “Richard VanHoose, like myself, was a district administrator in another district before coming to JCPS, and Richard VanHoose, like myself, worked in central office for several years before assuming the role of superintendent.”

The two finalists were complimentary toward each other during Thursday’s forum, but Raisor said the veiled shots they exchanged at points were the result of a demanding schedule of public events over the past week and show how much they want to be the next JCPS superintendent.

“Something like this can only go on so long before passions start to come out,” he said after the forum. “… We’ve kept things very professional. At the same time, both of us want this job, and I feel that it is important as the superintendent of schools to speak the truth, to point things out.”

For Pollio, he said it was important for him to offer counterpoints to some of Raisor’s ideas.

“I want people to know what type of leader I am,” he said. “I think they’ve seen it over the past seven months. I think our stakeholders have responded to that. I think the community has responded to that, so I just want everybody to be clear of where I stand on the issues.”

Diane Porter, who chairs the school board, said she expects to have materials gathered from the four forums and a public survey, which closes Friday, by Feb. 16, with finalist interviews to follow.

The board plans to announce its decision by March 1, she said.

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

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