FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools teachers made their presence felt at the Capitol Wednesday in hopes of dissuading lawmakers from passing a bill that would give their boss more power over spending and personnel.
Despite their efforts, the House Local Government Committee passed Senate Bill 250 on a 10-6 vote with one “pass” vote. The bill would allow the JCPS superintendent to override principal hiring decisions by school-based decision making councils, demote administrative staff and enter contracts worth up to $20,000 without school board approval.
Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican who sponsors the measure, said the measure was meant to give JCPS more flexibility to make improvements in light of last year’s attempt by the Kentucky Department of Education to place the state’s largest district under its control.
“Senate Bill 250 is a small step, but I think it’s a critical step in the right direction,” Adams said. “As anyone would tell you, I’m not up to anything super sneaky. I’m here because I think that with being opposed to state takeover, that it’s appropriate that we have this conversation.”
But many JCPS teachers weren’t convinced that SB 250 is the right direction for their district.
SB 250 was one bill that teachers planned to protest at the Capitol as part of their efforts in closing down school Wednesday. They fear another piece of legislation that would give big tax breaks to donors of private-school scholarship funds could be slipped into a separate tax bill that’s being negotiated by House and Senate lawmakers.
House Majority Floor Leader John “Bam” Carney, a Campbellsville Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the measure does not have the 60 votes necessary to pass such legislation in a non-budget session.
“We felt the need as JCPS to mobilize ourselves and to start making a movement that would be against those specific bills, especially 250, that are coming against us,” said Tim Hill, a teacher at the Academy @ Shawnee and a leader of the JCPS Leads group that helped organize Wednesday’s teacher call-outs, as about two dozen protesters joined him outside Louisville City Hall Wednesday morning.
A fight at the Capitol for Senate Bill 250. The annex was crowded with JCPS teachers who came amid a sickout that cancelled school. Hear from teachers, parents, and @JCPSSuper coming up on @WDRBNews at 4. Later, @KevinWheatleyKY goes in depth on https://t.co/5ksMq6XFdJ pic.twitter.com/LDoaJ0PXIW— Dalton Godbey (@DaltonTVNews) March 6, 2019
Brennan Pizer, a high school teacher at Marion C. Moore School, said teachers’ misgivings with legislative action in Frankfort started during last year’s session when lawmakers passed a pension reform bill that would greatly alter retirement benefits for newly hired teachers.
Now, lawmakers are pursuing a number of bills that Pizer and other like-minded educators see as harmful to their profession.
“Some of us are in a situation where we have a little bit of protection, so we felt like we had to make a stand and say something about it,” Pizer told WDRB News.
The call to action was not supported by the Jefferson County Teachers Association, the union that represents most JCPS teachers.
Still, JCTA President Brent McKim said he appreciated the teachers’ reasoning on the matter as he testified against SB 250.
“I think every teacher who is here is here because they care about their students and they care about their profession,” McKim said in response to a comment by Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, that the teachers’ demonstration “eroded” and “undercut” the union’s voice in legislative matters.
“Regardless of whose decision it was for that to happen, I think they’ve dedicated themselves and their careers to this work,” he added.
McKim and other opponents of SB 250 argued that the legislation would undo a process that has worked for schools as stakeholders pick their principals.
Principals who have gone through the SBDM hiring process urged lawmakers to vote against SB 250. Kelland Garland, principal of Hebron Middle School in Shepherdsville, said applicants can get a sense of whether or not they fit in a school’s culture based on their interviews with school councils.
He knows that from personal experience, he said. While he was searching for principal jobs, Garland said his former superintendent and he thought he would be a solid choice for a particular school. Within the first five minutes of stepping into the school, Garland said he “knew I was very much out of place.”
“I did not belong there,” said Garland, who also serves on the Kentucky Association of School Councils board. “The teachers and the parents and the student that took me around before the interview started, it was very clear that there just wasn’t a connection there. Upon hearing their questions of me and asking about my skillset, it was clear that I was not what that school needed.”
Adams said the SBDM interview process would be protected if SB 250 becomes law, but superintendents would be able to override those decisions.
“The SBDM process is fully intact in this,” Adams said. “The only difference is that the superintendent will have the ultimate authority.”
Amending the principal hiring process has been a concept endorsed by JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, the Jefferson County Board of Education, the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education.
Pollio said he's a "big believer" in SBDM councils, but superintendents should have final say in who's leading district schools.
"I think that across the state that superintendents would agree that we definitely need to have increased influence and even selection power over principals at school," Pollio told WDRB News. "I think that's very important moving forward."
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told WDRB News that the bill would give Pollio, who has also voiced support for changes to administrative tenure, the necessary authority to fix problems at JCPS.
In fact, as rumors swirled late Tuesday that teacher absences could shutter JCPS the next day, Lewis wrote an email to members of the House Local Government Committee detailing his support for SB 250.
“Senate Bill 250 I believe is really important toward giving him the flexibility that he needs to be able to really move the district forward in some key areas,” Lewis said in a phone interview.
The bill now heads to the House for a possible floor vote. It passed the Senate on a 31-6 vote, with bipartisan support and opposition. Wednesday’s House committee vote fell along party lines, with Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, voting “pass.”
Many in Louisville will be anxiously watching to see whether JCPS teachers will stage another demonstration Thursday, which would be the third day out of school in a week.
"I think it's important to note that we want our kids in school," Pollio said.
JCPS Leads will decide "in the near future" whether to mobilize teachers again this week, Hill said early Wednesday.
"We are moving forward with our thoughts and our process," he told reporters in Louisville. "We are urging people to continue calling their legislators, making sure that they are having their voice heard as well."
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