LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Mental health counselors at every school, expanded summer programs and a residency program to boost the number of minority teachers in classrooms are among priorities for Jefferson County Public Schools as the school board looks ahead to the 2019-20 budget.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and other officials presented their top budget items, as well as a review of $33.3 million worth of programs, during a Jefferson County Board of Education work session Tuesday.

Budget priorities fall into a number of key areas for JCPS, such as promoting the district’s racial equity policy and closing the achievement gap between white students and minorities, improving culture and climate at schools, improving the Backpack of Success Skills initiative, and modernizing facilities.

Tuesday’s work session did not include specific dollar amounts to cover the new initiatives, but officials said additional funds will come in part through repurposing existing budget items.

That’s part of the push to evaluate JCPS programs each year in the budget process. The school board reviewed $33.3 million in spending as part of the work session. Last year, an examination of $33 million in district spending yielded an extra $676,285 for new programs.

Pollio said after the work session that funding new initiatives in the upcoming budget will “require some tough decisions” based on results.

“We are really attempting to do things completely different, from the summer learning initiative where we’re trying to get 5,000 students into extended summer learning to completely changing our facilities to supports for students at every school and several others,” Pollio said after the work session.

“We’re in a lot of preliminary discussions for me to identify a number, but these initiatives obviously cost a great deal,” he said. “But if we’re going to get different outcomes for our students, we’ve got to do things differently.”

One area under review, the $2.5 million spent on 34 behavioral coaches, was found to have had “no consistent impact” on student behavior, according to Tuesday’s presentation.

In fact, Pollio said disciplinary referrals increased at some schools where behavioral coaches work.

“We didn’t get the outcomes that the district wanted, but I believe that was more of a structure and systemic problem from central office, not clearly defining their roles and saying, ‘This is what we expect  to see in every school,’” Pollio said.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen with the behavioral coaches in the upcoming budget. Pollio said after the work session that no final decisions have been made during preliminary talks on the spending plan.

Still, some board members said they were pleased to see the district try new initiatives even if they ultimately fall short of their goals.

“Part of innovating is learning from failure, and that’s important,” board member Chris Brady said. “That might be more important than learning from success.”

Board member Chris Kolb said while he was happy to see the district exploring ways to potentially salvage initiatives, he was glad JCPS administrators are “willing to make the tough decisions.”

“Otherwise you end up with a whole bunch of programs that you don’t know if a lot of them work or not, so I feel very positive about this work,” Kolb said.

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

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