JCPS considering takeover settlement with deadline approaching

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education has a day to decide whether to accept an offer from the state and avoid state management for Kentucky’s largest school district.

The settlement, if accepted by the school board and approved by the Kentucky Board of Education, would render the scheduled 12-day hearing on the matter moot and prevent a lengthy court battle over interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’s recommendation that KDE manage operations at Jefferson County Public Schools.

“We feel it is in the best interest of the district’s students for the Department of Education to try to work with JCPS before a long legal battle ensues,” Lewis said in a statement late Monday.

“We need to get to work immediately – together and before the school year begins – to address the deficiencies of the audit and begin district improvement efforts. If an agreement is reached, we will immediately begin to work together to build a district that is committed to meeting the needs of all learners in a safe environment.”

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio also said he believes both sides want to avoid a protracted fight for control of the district, which is responsible for about 101,000 students.

“We all want to be able to do the work,” Pollio told reporters during a Tuesday press conference. “The most important thing for me is to be able to do this work that I’ve talked about because I honestly believe this and I believe that our internal people feel that this is going to transform the district.”

“Whatever happens as a result in the near future, I firmly believe we’re on the cusp of something great here at JCPS,” he added, noting that the district has taken steps to correct deficiencies outlined by KDE in its 14-month audit of JCPS.

But exactly what the state offered JCPS in exchange for pulling its takeover recommendation remains to be seen.

Pollio declined to provide details of the proposal, and KDE declined to provide a copy of the settlement offer. Diane Porter, chair of the local school board, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Still, Pollio said the local school board and its legal counsel are poring over the settlement offer as Wednesday’s deadline approaches.

“It is a decision that our board will be making in the near future, and I think they are having discussions about that, potential meetings in the very near future,” he said. “… I can’t say exactly when, but I know there’s a lot of discussions and negotiations going on.”

When asked whether he would prefer a settlement, Pollio said he would need to know the extent of KDE’s intervention at JCPS.

“There’s no doubt that I’d like to put something behind us as quickly as we can,” he told WDRB News. “I’d like to move forward. I’d like us to be able to really focus on the work as a district, but it would be difficult for me to answer that not knowing what the specifics of any settlement would be.”

Lewis recommended state management for JCPS on April 30 after KDE’s 14-month audit of the district and based his decision on multiple issues laid out in the report, such as student abuse and neglect in the district’s Head Start program and fiscal management.

The Jefferson County school board unanimously voted to request a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education on May 29. Elizabeth Heilman, the hearing officer overseeing the appeal, set a 12-day hearing schedule that begins Sept. 12 and concludes Nov. 2.

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

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