Marty Pollio student assignment committee.jpg

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio addresses the Student Assignment Review Advisory Committee during its July 23, 2019, meeting.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A committee tasked with examining the student assignment plan for Jefferson County Public Schools advanced a proposal Tuesday that would give many families in west Louisville the choice of sending their kids to middle and high schools closer to home.

The proposal for dual “resides” middle and high schools, which indicate which JCPS schools students can automatically enroll in, in satellite areas primarily in the city’s west end has been discussed as a means to improve choice for some of the district’s most underprivileged students.

Of the 2,002 high school students who live in the areas most affected by the proposal, 88% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. That’s the same percentage of the 1,833 middle school students in the same area who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to JCPS data.

The idea now moves to the community and the school board of input, with a final draft expected to return to the committee for its approval later. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district also plans to hire a consultant to help develop the proposal.

If enacted, Pollio said the plan would require the district to open a new middle school in west Louisville. There are only three middle schools in the area: Western Middle School for the Arts, which is primarily a magnet school; Johnson Traditional Middle School, which is one of the district’s traditional magnet schools; and the Academy @ Shawnee’s middle school program, which Pollio said is “a small program.”

“We have to build a new middle school,” Pollio told the committee during Tuesday’s meeting. “There’s no question about it.”

But allowing west end students to stay close to home could pose additional challenges for the state’s largest school district, particularly in potentially creating schools with greater concentrations of high-need students compared to others in JCPS.

Angela Bowens, who has a son in JCPS and a daughter who graduated from the district, didn’t vote in favor of moving forward with the proposal. A west end resident, she said she needed to be assured that her community and its students would have the resources they need to provide and attain a quality education.

“There’s so much that goes on and needs to be addressed,” she said. “We have young boys that are getting killed every day. They’re school-age kids.”

Bowens believes JCPS can provide adequate funding if the proposal becomes part of the student assignment plan and more high-need students enroll in schools in west Louisville. She said she’d like to see the community demonstrate its support by providing more funding, such as paying more in taxes.

“I don’t mind paying the taxes, but I don’t represent the whole community,” she said.

Pollio said the district will need to show how those schools will be resourced as the plan develops. JCPS has two options to provide more money to those schools, he said: shuffling existing funding within in the district or raising taxes to bring in more revenue.

“I think we’re exploring both of those options right now,” Pollio said. “… Before we took any final vote, you would have to be comfortable with the plan for resourcing.”

Chris Harmer, chairman of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, also questioned how giving families in the satellite resides areas the option to send their kids closer to home would impact diversity in other schools throughout JCPS.

Schools with satellite resides areas in the west end that would be affected by the proposal include Ramsey Middle, Crosby Middle, Kammerer Middle, Ballard High, Seneca High, Waggener High and Doss High, among others.

“We believe that diversity really is an important value to maintain, that it has impacts on academics for kids coming from poverty,” Harmer said.

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