JCPS board votes to approve 'Males of Color' Academy in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Some Jefferson County Board of Education members said Wednesday that they expect further delay in the conclusion of the long-awaited audit of the state’s largest school district after Stephen Pruitt resigned as education commissioner on Tuesday.

Two of those board members – Chris Kolb and Chris Brady – said they had expected Pruitt to release the audit this week.

“That’s what we were told, that it would come out this week,” Kolb told WDRB News. “Obviously I don’t think that that’s probably going to happen now.”

Board member Linda Duncan said she’s not sure when the audit will be released given the changes in leadership at the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education.

“All we really know is that we have a new bunch of people looking at our audit, and so recommendations may change,” Duncan said. “But what we have to do is totally focus on our district and what we’re doing right now in reorganization to support the students and the teachers of our district and help them improve achievement and help us close this achievement gap.”

Pruitt’s sudden departure – which came after the state education board, made up of several new members appointed Monday, met behind closed doors for more than four hours to discuss personnel on Tuesday – is the latest hiccup for the KDE’s audit.

Pruitt announced the JCPS examination Feb. 14, 2017, and said in recent days that the audit was nearing completion pending a review of the district’s collective bargaining agreements. He had originally wanted to complete the report by the end of the 2016-17 school year.

His replacement, interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, said he hadn’t “seen the first word, the first sentence” in the audit but the report would “have to be a top priority for me.”

“I’m going to have to get on the ground and figure out exactly where the department is in that audit, get up to speed pretty quickly because Jefferson County Public Schools has been waiting on the results of that audit for far too long,” Lewis told reporters after his appointment Tuesday.

“I can’t imagine being in a school district and waiting that long to hear something about what my future is going to look like. That’s not fair to the district. That’s not fair to kids.”

Chris Brady, a member and former chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said he’s worried that Pruitt’s resignation may result in KDE recommending state management for JCPS.

He said Pruitt told JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and school board chair Diane Porter last week that he would recommend on-site state assistance for the district, a step below management.

Under state management, a state-appointed manager would handle the operations, finances and instructional aspects of the district previously exercised by the school board and superintendent. State assistance would authorize KDE staff to directly monitor compliance with issues raised in the audit and any corrective action plans formulated in response to the report.

Brady said he believed that the impending audit results caused the state board to move quickly to replace Pruitt. During a town hall on Monday, Brady publicly asked Pruitt about his audit recommendation, which the former commissioner declined to answer.

“My concern was that the commissioner wouldn’t be the commissioner for very much longer, and it’s why I gave the commissioner the opportunity to be able to set the record straight before his recommendation was possibly discarded and those that haven’t been a part of this audit for the last year and a half would be coming in and making their own decision,” Brady said.

Lisa Willner, vice chair of the local school board, said she's worried that the audit's outcome will be different than if Pruitt had stayed at KDE.

"Those who are playing politics with our children's future should be ashamed of themselves," she wrote in an email to WDRB News. "We would welcome a good-faith opportunity to work hand in hand with the Kentucky Board of Education to improve outcomes for all students. I am concerned about a full state takeover and what that would mean for our students and the future of our community."

Should the audit ultimately recommend state management for JCPS, Kolb said he expected the board to attempt to retain local control of the district’s functions . The Jefferson County Board of Education would start with an appeal to the state board.

“I’m committed, and I feel pretty confident that my colleagues on the board are committed, to fighting to keep JCPS under the control of local voters as strongly as we can,” said Kolb, noting that he supported Pruitt’s decision to audit JCPS.

“There’s absolutely no basis for full state management. If you look at the precedent of the Department of Education and when they’ve audited other districts, the things that have been turned up in JCPS don’t even remotely approach the threshold of state management. It’ll be a long, drawn out legal fight as far as we can push it if the state tries to overstep their authority.”

Only two school districts are currently under state management – Breathitt County Schools and Menifee County Schools.

KDE took control of schools in Breathitt County after former Superintendent Arch Turner was sentenced to two years in prison on a vote-buying conviction in December 2012, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. In Menifee County, the district had been on state assistance for about eight months before the state decided to assume control in July 2015, according to the Associated Press.

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

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