Future of JCPS up in the air as district awaits results of a state audit

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County public school board is trying to bargain to avoid a state takeover of the embattled school district.

Tuesday night during a three-hour executive session, the board met behind closed doors with JCPS attorneys and afterward emerged providing no public comment.

Kentucky Department of Education Interim Commissioner Wayne Lewis targeted JCPS for a takeover after the findings of a 14-month audit revealed problems with safety, oversight and student achievement.

JCPS appealed and the issue is set for a 12 day hearing beginning next month. In July, KDE made a settlement offer that would give the state enhanced oversight of some areas highlighted in the audit including student assignment, early childhood education and special education.

The oversight would give Lewis veto authority over decisions made in those areas. The settlement offer would give the state greater oversight in district operations than in a status of state assistance while falling "far short" of the state's authority in a takeover, Lewis said.

"Currently, communications are ongoing and attorneys are working collaboratively," JCPS communication staff said in an email Wednesday on the executive session.


But WDRB has learned more about that meeting. Sources in the room confirmed that JCPS went line by line through Lewis' proposal working on responses to sticking points the district would and would not accept in the settlement.

One of the biggest obstacles is KDE controlling the fate of the JCPS student assignment plan. The long-challenged and controversial system assigns Louisville students to schools in different neighborhoods for diversity. There are times those schools are 20 to 30 minutes away from their homes. Yet the makeup on some school campuses remains 90 percent minority students, and those schools often have the most failing students.

"We want to look at some of the problems we have with it, and we want to improve efficiency in this district and make some improvements," Superintendent Marty Pollio said.

Student assignment is the signature policy of JCPS, and its one the school system went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep. Leaders look poised now to battle for it once again

"So we've been working on this for a while, and I know our board wants to see that through and that's a big part of this," Pollio said.

Also in the counter proposal is the timeline for a follow up audit. The state's settlement offer would have seen auditors back in schools in the fall of 2019 with the results being iron clad leaving JCPS no option for appeal.

"Obviously, it was a big sticking point that we had a lot of discussions on," Pollio explained. "From my perspective, me and my team want to make sure we have the opportunity to make those substantive changes that we can impact every student in the district and that we are given the time to do that."

Pollio contends it takes three to five years to see the results of turnaround efforts. He says the school system has already started to implement changes like the backpack of skills program that will roll out at the start of the new school year.

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