LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday to request a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education, appealing interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’ recommendation that the state manage operations at Kentucky’s largest school district. 

The Jefferson County school board would lose its authority and operate as an advisory panel under the recommended state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, as laid out by Lewis on April 30. The board had until Wednesday to seek a hearing.

Diane Porter, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, noted that the board was democratically elected and had "been able to function well under local decision-making."

"We would like to move forward with that," she said before reading the motion to request a hearing after a 30-minute executive session.

Porter said board members would not comment on the matter because the board doesn't want to compromise its appeal hearing.

Some Jefferson County board members have weighed in on possibly appealing Lewis' recommendation. Linda Duncan told WDRB News Tuesday that she wanted the board to have a chance "to dispute some of the things in the report that I found to be a little inaccurate and maybe get a chance to get some things clarified." Lisa Willner, vice chair of the board, said during a recent rally that an attack on the local school board "is an attack on democracy itself."

Milton Seymore, chair of the state education board, told WDRB News earlier Tuesday that it would likely be at least 30 days for the board to schedule an appeal hearing. Duncan worried that "minds are made up" on the state board, but Seymore said that's not the case and that the board will consider evidence from both sides.

“We all are independent as far as thinking and believing," he said, adding that JCPS will get "a fair hearing." "No one has said to us that we have to do this or do that.”

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio would remain at the district to handle daily operations of the district, rather than Lewis appointing a state manager, but Pollio would be required to report weekly to the Kentucky Department of Education.

Pollio, after a forum on a state takeover of JCPS on May 10, said if the school board voted to appeal Lewis' decision, he would support it.

"If our board members vote to have that hearing as they are legally able to do, then yes I support their decision," he told WDRB News.

Others voiced their support for the board's decision to appeal the recommended takeover at JCPS. A coalition group Our JCPS, made up of teachers, staff, parents, labor unions and other supporters, hosted a rally outside Tuesday's board meeting, where speakers urged the crowd to continue supporting the district as it begins the appeal process.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, was among those at the rally and said district officials have shown their willingness to work with the state to address issues raised by KDE. He would like to see state assistance for JCPS, which would require the state to help develop a corrective action plan and monitor its implementation.

"We're working cooperatively with the state, so why would you do a hostile takeover when we can work together with state assistance to make a positive difference for students?" McKim said.

Lewis, who assumed the role of interim education commissioner on April 17, would also have broad powers over JCPS operations under state management. He previously told WDRB that he would work with Pollio and the school board to collaboratively develop a plan for state management of JCPS.

The JCPS takeover recommendation came at the culmination of a 14-month audit by KDE, which detailed numerous deficiencies at the district. The state noted issues with student restraint and seclusion, including in the district’s Head Start program; ineffective and inefficient instructional management; inaccuracies in reporting career and technical education data; and allowing noncertified staff to supervise students during classes, among other findings.

A number of those issues are already subjects of corrective action plans implemented by JCPS, a point that was noted in Lewis' April 30 letter to the district.

Still, that wasn't enough to avoid his recommendation of state management.

"All of the areas audited contain numerous findings, which when taken together, show a pattern of significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness within JCPS," Lewis wrote.

The recommendation has drawn backlash from officials in Jefferson County, including many area lawmakers, Mayor Greg Fischer and the Louisville Metro Council, which passed a resolution opposing state management of JCPS. Others, such as the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition and the libertarian think-tank Bluegrass Institute, support a JCPS takeover.

Some had expected former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt – who resigned as a newly appointed Kentucky Board of Education met behind closed doors to discuss his employment April 17 – to recommend state assistance for JCPS, which would have resulted in additional guidance and monitoring from KDE instead of a complete takeover.

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

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