FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Board of Education will meet for the first time Wednesday since the Jefferson County Board of Education requested a hearing challenging a recommended takeover of the district.

Still unclear is exactly when that hearing will take place. The state education board must give at least a 20-day notice before the hearing date.

“Whenever the 20 days is up, and the people will call that,” Milton Seymore, the board’s chairman, said during a break in a Tuesday orientation and work session. “I don’t know.”

A pair of items related to the unscheduled hearing are on Wednesday’s Kentucky Board of Education meeting agenda: appointing a hearing officer to administer the proceeding and considering the Lexington-based law firm Embry Merritt Shaffar Womack as special board counsel.

The firm already has a contract with KDE worth up to $50,000 per year, and it will be among the board’s options for legal counsel in the appeal hearing, KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said in an email to WDRB News.

“In matters where there is a hearing like this, i.e. the commissioner makes a recommendation and the board has to act or hear an appeal, it is practice that the board’s attorney be someone who has not been involved in the review or work leading up to the recommendation,” she said.

Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, in his recommendation for state management of JCPS, said that Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office would provide a hearing officer. The agency can seek hearing officers from other state agencies or hire one for the proceeding if an officer isn’t available through Beshear’s office.

Both boards involved in the hearing are keeping mum on issues surrounding the appeal.

Seymore, when asked about the Jefferson County school board relinquishing its $15 million Head Start grant, declined to comment because of the hearing. Problems with student abuse and neglect in the district’s Head Start program were among issues cited by Lewis in his recommendation for state management, and the agency in charge of Head Start grants found last week that the district had not corrected those deficiencies in the 2017-18 school year.

“I really, truly don’t have any comments, except the fact is that I’m going to be hearing this case,” Seymore said. “I don’t want to recuse myself from this case, and so that’s basically all I can say at this point.”

That’s a similar position taken by the local school board. Diane Porter, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said at last week’s board meeting that members would not discuss their vote to request a hearing because they did not want to compromise that proceeding.

She did say, however, that the board was democratically elected and that JCPS had been working well under local control. That would change under Lewis’s state management proposal, which would strip the local school board of its voting authority and transition it to an advisory role.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio would remain and handle day-to-day operations, but he would be required to meet weekly with KDE. Lewis would have broad authority over the district’s management.

Lewis said he hasn’t been surprised by the opposition to his recommendation, particularly from several Louisville-area lawmakers.

He also took issue with the district’s argument to maintain local authority at JCPS.

“In the time I’ve been in the commonwealth, I have never seen the degree of angst and urgency and passion around Jefferson County Public Schools,” Lewis said. “What I find incredibly unfortunate is that passion is primarily around maintaining local control and not around ensuring that our most vulnerable children are served well.

“What I wish is that that passion, that same degree of passion around maintaining local control of the district were in place before we got to this place because I believe if that were the case, we would not be here.”

He said KDE’s 14-month audit of JCPS yielded “overwhelming” evidence in support of his recommendation for a takeover of Kentucky’s largest school district.

“There is more than enough evidence to make the case for state management,” Lewis told reporters.

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

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