LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Election Day is eight days away, and some of the most contested races in Jefferson County are four seats on the Jefferson County Public Schools board, including District Three.
Four candidates are campaigning for the District Three seat: James Craig (incumbent), Steve Ullum, Samuel Cowan, and G. Perry Adelmann.
Craig has served on the JCPS school board since 2018. He is an attorney and father of two JCPS students. When asked why seeking re-election, Craig said he wants all JCPS students to have a positive experience in the district just like his two kids.
Craig said his number one priority if re-elected is to address the teacher shortage, which would include continuing to increase teachers salaries.
The current board approved a 4% salary increases for teachers in June, as well as continuity bonuses worth $1,000 in the 2022-23 school year.
"We're looking at doing that again for the following year. So that we can bring them up to the highest paid teachers in the state of Kentucky, adjust it for the cost of living because it's more expensive to live in Louisville than it is in Taylor County," Craig said.
JCPS current board also approved a new safety plan that went into effect this school year. Craig voted to approve the plan which created unarmed safety administrators to focus on building relationships with students inside every school, and an armed school safety officer monitors several schools by car in close proximity.
"The new school security plan is working," Craig said. "We need to understand that school safety is an issue that needs community support behind it. When I joined the board, there were large swaths of the community who were against what we were doing at that time. We changed it in 2019, and there was a new swath of the community who was against our new proposals and the new way that we were tackling school security. In January of 2022 the Board of Education approved a safety plan with a unanimous vote, getting the entire community behind what we're doing right now was the success then we need to give it time to play out."
By state law, JCPS will be required to open a charter school in the future. Craig said he is against charter schools and fears it takes away funding from other schools in the district.
Cowan is a retired JCPS principal who spent over 25 years working in public education. When asked why running for school board he said he wants to give back to his community, and continue his passion for education at a different level.
Cowan said if elected, there are several "number one" issues he would like to tackle, but said a critical issue is to address the teacher shortage.
As a retired educator Cowan said the shortage affects all level of educators and students in adverse ways. In efforts to address the problem, Cowan said addressing pay helps, but wants to see wider recruitment efforts as another tool and improved incentives.
“Actively seeking people with job fairs across the country, even the world to Louisville to Jefferson County Schools, there’s constantly reviewing teacher salaries and pays and staff pay," Cowan said. "Continuing looking at incentives for staff to draw people to the field and then once they're enough in the field, how to continue to give incentives, financial incentives to people who are working in the field."
As for the district's school safety plan, Cowan said the current board is not doing enough and would prefer to see one armed school resource officer inside buildings.
“I know that it takes sometimes forever for the officer to get to a building in case of an emergency," Cowan said. "I'm very well aware that our schools need even more protection.”
Cowan is against charter schools, but understands by state law the district will be required to open one. He said the school will need to be monitored very closely.
Ullum is the father of one daughter who attends a school outside of JCPS. He said he decided to get more involved and run for school board after feeling uncomfortable with the district's direction during NTI.
Ullum said one of his top priorities if elected to school board is to address discipline and safety.
Ullum believes a lack of discipline and safety in schools has contributed to staffing shortages, and said the problems needs to be addressed to help retain teachers.
"Most of the teachers I have spoken to have said that the number one reason they're hearing from their colleagues that people are leaving is because of behavior issues which stem from lack of discipline," Ullum said. "If kids don't want to be there. They're not going to learn what they should be. If teachers don't want to be there, they're not going to put their all into teaching the kids."
When it comes to school safety, Ullum supports armed school resource officers inside schools.
"Not because it will fix every single problem, but it will be a deterrent and we at least stand a chance if there was something of an emergency to happen," said Ullum.
As for charter schools, Ullum is in full support. He said it offers parents more choice on where to send their students.
G. Perry Adelmann
Adelmann is the mother of an Academy @ Shawnee graduate. She also is the founder of groups "Dear JCPS" and "Save our Schools Kentucky."
When asked why seeking a seat on the JCPS school board, Adelmann said she wants to be part of the solution and address community concerns that have otherwise been disrespected or disregarded.
Adelmann said her top priority if elected to JCPS school board is to address "attacks" from Frankfort towards the district, and close the achievement gap.
When asked about staffing shortages, Adelmann said she believes the treatment of teachers needs to improve and to take a closer look at the internal investigations process and human resources office.
"I hear from educators all the time who told me that they've applied for a position and no one's ever called them back. I hear from educators that they're being set up for grievances because they reported a problem in their school," Adelmann said. "So there are whistleblowers that are being harassed or retaliated against and so, you know, we can't keep recruiting in new teachers if we're not making sure we're taking care of our existing teachers and also making sure that we are clearing the backlog and making sure that there aren't teachers being kept out or pushed out for some other reason."
For school safety, Adelmann said the district's current plan tries to solve the problems with wrong approaches. Adelmann is against armed school resource officers in schools and believes to better promote safety, schools need to address mental health and students' trauma.
"Having armed police actually in our schools leads to disparate treatment and leads to teachers asking officers to handled discipline that should be best handled by staff in the school," Adelmann said.
Adelamann is fully opposed to charter schools and has actively campaigned against charter schools in the past with her organization "Save our Schools Kentucky."
WDRB will preview each of the JCPS school board candidate district races over the next week-and-a-half. WDRB spoke with the 13 candidates about staff shortages, test scores, the new school choice plan, and other important issues.
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