LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A group run by a Jefferson County Public Schools critic hopes to raise awareness about controversy surrounding the district’s Head Start programs through a new radio advertisement that recently hit Louisville airwaves.

Kentuckians for Progress, a 501(c)(4) with Louisville commercial real estate developer David Nicklies as its president, spent $4,920 for 41 spots to air on WGBZ-FM through June 27, according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

The minute-long spot, which began airing Friday, includes testimony from acting Office of Head Start Director Ann Linehan before the Jefferson County Board of Education on Oct. 10 in which she said reading initial reports of abuse and neglect in JCPS’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs “makes one sick to one’s stomach.”

The ad also outlines other recent developments in the district’s handling of Head Start.

In a May 31 follow-up report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the district had not fixed problems with abuse and neglect in Head Start, detailing 21 new incidents during the 2017-18 school year. That came the same week that the school board voted to give up its $15 million Head Start grant and invest $8 million to expand its early childhood program for 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for Head Start, which is offered to kids in low-income families.

“Enough is enough,” a female narrator says in the Kentuckians for Progress ad. “The JCPS board needs to be held accountable for our children and money. It’s time for us to speak up and demand action.”

In an interview with WDRB News on Tuesday, Nicklies said the group may buy more ads to continue bringing the district’s Head Start issues into the public discourse. 

“We think it’s important for the public to realize what’s going on with the students in Jefferson County schools,” he said. “… We’re going to work to create as much awareness of the subject as possible. At the end of the day we have one goal: To keep the kids safe and educated.”

The radio ad comes as the Jefferson County Board of Education prepares to appeal interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’s recommendation of state management for JCPS following a 14-month review.

Diane Porter, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, declined to comment on the spot because Head Start is among issues cited by Lewis in his call for a state takeover and the board has requested a hearing to appeal that recommendation.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he had not heard the spot, but he said the district has "worked diligently throughout this year" to correct issues in its Head Start program, especially in reporting incidents and dealing with them "in a very assertive way." Quickly reporting incidents was one prior deficiency that JCPS fixed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's a continuing project," he told reporters before Tuesday's school board meeting. "We've done a lot of work this year, but we still have work to do. A foundation for us is making sure that every student feels safe in the classroom, in each and every classroom, and I'm going to be committed to doing that."

Nicklies said he personally supports the call for a state takeover of JCPS.

“But I’m not an educator, so I don’t know if that’s the right thing,” he said.

Nicklies also chairs the Bluegrass Fund, a nonprofit that has invested heavily in Jefferson County school board elections in recent years, often opposing candidates backed by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Asked about the group’s plans for the 2018 school board elections, Nicklies said it is “really focused on today.”

“It’s shocking how few people really understand if they’re not in a crisis with their child or family member in the school system,” Nicklies said. “The majority of the public really doesn’t understand what’s going on, and it’s the poorest of our community that’s in that situation.”

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

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