Recommended changes from the state’s exhaustive audit of Jefferson County Public Schools could impact busing, taxes and the student assignment plan.
Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis recommended the district be placed under state management on Monday. The basis for his recommendation, along with suggested changes, are contained in a 90-page audit report.
Here are seven key take-aways from the report and how the suggested changes could impact the district.
Findings: Kentucky Department of Education staff identified several problems with the district’s transportation system.
JCPS doesn’t have a process to analyze bus routes to make sure they’re the most effective and efficient system, the report said. An average elementary student has a ride time of 25 minutes, with an average high schooler having a 31-minute ride time, the report found. However, there are more than 600 elementary students and 2,100 students in the district of over 100,000 that have ride times over 60 minutes.
Route assignments also drew concern, as supervisors can’t give challenging routes to more experienced drivers. A union agreement allows drivers with seniority to choose what route they want. The agreement reduces flexibility in assigning routes, the report said. It could also cause new drivers to get routes with students with behavior issues that the driver can’t handle.
There were multiple issues in regards to safety: No process to review bus monitor allocation; no district policy to consistently address bus discipline; and schools and drivers don’t always share student issues “to promote consistency in behavior solutions,” according to the report.
Many behavior referrals from drivers either don’t result in a consequence or don’t get addressed in the first place. Students with multiple behavior issues are rarely given bus suspensions, while drivers who report the issues could have their route switched or be fired, drivers told KDE.
Some students who are suspended from the bus have no other way to get to school, the report said. And some students who are suspended from the bus end up being recorded as absent or suspended from school, some administrators said.
Recommendations: Bus routes should be analyzed for the “most efficient and effective solution.”
One recommendation asks that the district review its policy that allows students with “escalated” behavior issues to continue to ride the bus.
Some of the control of who gets which route should be moved to the compound coordinator “so that the best choice can be assigned to each route.”
For student safety, add monitors to routes that have longer than average ride times. The district should have drivers go through more training, specifically in things like de-escalation, throughout the year. Schools should share student behavior more consistently with drivers to ensure student safety.
Student Assignment Plan
Findings: KDE said the student assignment plan, which gives students a choice of where to go to school, has “a distinct negative impact on the most at-risk JCPS students.”
“The guiding principles of the JCPS Student Assignment Plan are choice, quality, diversity, predictability, stability and equity. Based on interviews, choice and diversity are championed above the other principles,” the report said.
The report outlined a number of alternative options for students outside of their closest school of which students can apply for. Due to limited spaces, the process doesn’t guarantee all students the school they want or need. The “limited availability” of specialized programs, including magnet schools, results in “equity and access issues.”
“Students can select three prioritized choices for the schools they wish to attend; however, if they are not chosen or selected for any of the three choices, they are placed in their residence area school,” the report said. “Ultimately, the school where they are placed may not meet their unique learning needs.”
Limited availability can also mean otherwise qualified students do not get a spot in the program. Similar constraints impact gifted and talented services, the report found.
The plan can also lead to a “lack of diversity” in some schools, the report said.
“However, data indicate that there are some schools where there is a disproportionate percentage of African-American and free/reduced lunch resulting in inequity and lack of diversity in some schools,” the report said.
Recommendation: The report recommends the district create a task force to review the plan to “ensure opportunity, equity and access to all students.” Such a task force already exists: The Student Assignment Review Advisory Committee started meeting in October and hopes to have changes to be implemented by the 2020-21 school year.
Not enough funding for facilities
Findings: With aging facilities throughout the district, JCPS doesn’t have enough money budgeted to meet facility needs, the report said.
The 2017 District Facility Plan identified $1.3 billion of facility needs, but the district only budgeted $61 million each fiscal year. It will take 21 years to fix everything that is currently deemed a problem, the report said, and by then, more buildings will have aged and added to the total.
A fund designated for minor improvements isn’t sufficient either, the report said. In turn, the district only temporarily fixes problems instead of a more costly permanent fix, resulting in additional costs over time.
“There is little to no evidence that the district has a sense of urgency to overcome the documented needs,” the report found. There isn’t a plan to fully utilize the district’s bonding capacity, worth another $75 million, to fund “critical capital projects.”
In the first year of former Superintendent Donna Hargens’ tenure, the school board rejected a 4 percent tax. As a result, the district lost out on $16 million a year in the years since. At least some of these funds could have been used to cover facility projects, the report said.
There is no formal prioritization or transparent system to prevent favoritism to decide which projects need to be fixed first, the report said. Some administrators perceive district officials play favorites when it comes to which projects will be completed first.
Schools are asked to classify desired building modifications as “must have” or “nice to have,” which determines a source of funding. Some requests are ultimately deemed “nice to have” despite being needed to meet district requirements. “Nice to have” items are funded by individual school budgets, causing some principals to be frustrated with the financial burden of a district request.
Recommendations: JCPS should “completely address the needs regarding facilities,” the report said.
Two tax options are specifically recommended: A nickel tax and a 3 percent utility tax for all utility usage across the district. KDE also recommends the board consider “any and all additional revenue sources” for facility needs.
A nickel tax is typically $0.05 for every $100 of assessed value of a person’s home or land. The suggested nickel tax would add $34 million in revenue each year, which has a bonding capacity of $459 million, the report estimated.
Where teachers teach
Findings: JCPS doesn’t have a “quality assurance check” to ensure the most qualified teachers are going to the neediest schools.
Open teaching positions are posted as school-specific instead of districtwide. Priority school administrators said applicants are more likely to apply for jobs at better-performing schools, leaving needier schools with fewer applicants.
Some JCPS staff interviewed didn’t know how teachers were assigned to schools, the report found. Others said schools are limited in hiring to a specific list of teachers rather than hiring from the entire candidate pool, causing frustration because some hires “do not share the vision and core values of the school.”
Recommendation: A process should be created so the “most qualified and effective teachers” work in the neediest schools, the report recommended.
Findings: There is no process to ensure district grants are distributed equitably, the report said.
Title II funds are used for districtwide initiatives, but some priority school principals told KDE staff that schools don’t have a say in how the funds are allocated. Some didn’t even know the funds existed.
Confusion around Title I funding also exists, with multiple schools unsure why they don’t receive funding. JCPS administrators haven’t given them a reason why, the report said.
What the funding would be used for varies based on the type of school, the report found. Priority schools focused on ways to help student success like mental health services and interventionists, while proficient and distinguished schools were more concerned about facilities.
Recommendations: KDE recommended an in-depth review of the district’s grant allocations to make sure the money is being spread equitably. A process to help school principals know about remaining available funds was also recommended.
Inconsistent curriculum and feedback
Findings: Concerns about school equity extend to curriculum. Based on interviews, the district’s approach to ensuring equity and rigor in curriculum is inconsistent across the district.
Use of data to guide instruction and feedback on teaching are both inconsistent, the report said. A walk-through process is not consistent at all JCPS schools, leading to some teachers not receiving immediate feedback on their teaching from administrators.
Recommendations: KDE recommends a consistent, effective instructional process and success measures to be used by district and school administrators, along with improved district collaboration. Similar requests are in a draft of JCPS’ proposed racial equity policy, which is expected to be read for a second time this month.
Career and technical education dismissed
Findings: The district seems to view career and technical education, or CTE, classes and pathways as electives, while they should be viewed as serious paths to career readiness, the report said.
“An overriding theme of interviews … showed a lack of understanding of CTE as a whole,” the report said. Pathway specialists, who help schools design CTE classes, said they have to “convince and market” to school administrators who then have the final decision regarding CTE offerings.
Of 6,106 graduates in 2015-16, 40 percent were not ready for colleges. Only 242 — 3 percent of graduates — were considered career ready.
Many students are able to take CTE classes out of sequence, which may lead to lower pass rates. In 2015-16, 29 percent of JCPS students in CTE pathways passed their end of program exam. The state average for the exam is 43 percent.
Aside from a misaligned view of CTE, the report cited inaccuracies in data reporting and documentation for the programs.
Recommendations: The district college and career coordinator should make a plan that communicates the value of CTE and becomes “part of the district’s culture.” The coordinator should also help schools, families and students understand opportunities students can have through such programs.
District CTE leaders should make sure “specific needs identified by business and industry partners,” job market needs and student interests are addressed in all schools.
Some high schools, designed this year to be Talent Development Academies, are supposed to collaborate with business partners and monitor “the ability to meet business and industry needs.”
Read the full report below.