With the long-awaited audit results expected within days, parents and school-based decision-making councils, or SBDMs, are mobilizing to speak out against a potential state takeover.
A few hours after Wayne Lewis, the state’s top education official, finished his two-day visit to Louisville, around 75 parents, teachers and students gathered outside of VanHoose Education Center to rally Thursday night in support of Jefferson County Public Schools.
Most wearing red — the color of support for public education — and holding signs, the crowd listened to messages of support for JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and the Jefferson County Board of Education. One student walked around the group, handing out flyers on the implications of a state takeover — one potential result from a 14-month state audit.
For nearly all of the crowd, a takeover means less local power over the district, Kentucky’s largest.
“Too many individuals and groups are claiming to represent students and stakeholders while advocating for the takeover,” Sarah Cole McIntosh, a parent representative on a SBDM council, said. “The reality is that our schools, our board and Dr. Pollio have a great deal of support and stakeholders want their schools to remain under local control.”
Parents fear a state takeover could mean Pollio, the elected school board and SBDMs would be removed from their positions or have weakened power. While the state statute says a state-appointed manager would have power over Pollio and the board, it’s unclear what impact it would have on the smaller, school-based councils.
Made of parents, teachers and administrators, SBDM councils have input in school-specific affairs, including staffing, policies and curriculum. They also have some control over certain budget allocations for the school, Cindy Cushman, a parent representative on Iroquois High School’s SBDM council.
“All of this is tailored to each school making those decisions most effective in supporting student achievement in an environment most intentionally designed to meet their specific needs,” McIntosh said in an email to Insider. “A state takeover could result in a loss of local school input into all of those areas and more.”
SBDM members are being encouraged to pass resolutions and explain potential ramifications of a takeover on their school to families. Representatives of more than 50 schools have contacted the person spearheading the effort, Cushman said.
As the largest and one of the most diverse districts in the state, JCPS faces different challenges from other districts, which tend to be more rural and white. JCPS allies fear a state takeover would bring in a manager who didn’t understand those challenges. On the other hand, Pollio understands the district’s barriers, Cushman said.
“We aren’t resisting a state takeover because we think the district doesn’t have problems,” Cushman said. “We are resisting the takeover because we think we finally have the leadership in place to work on fixing the problems, and we want them to be able to do the work that they’ve started.”
The SBDMs and parents join others in JCPS and the city in a stand against a takeover. Friday, Mayor Greg Fischer tweeted that he had met with the interim Education Commissioner Lewis about JCPS, expressing opposition to a takeover.
I also voiced my strong support for our teachers and principals, Dr. Marty Pollio, and local control of our school. I am opposed to a state takeover — the changes driven by Dr. Pollio as well as JCPS’s implementation of the audit findings should be given a chance to work. 3/3
— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) April 27, 2018
At Tuesday night’s JCBOE meeting, all 150 JCPS principals stood as Eisenhower Elementary principal Julie Cummings read a statement of support for Pollio and the board.
“Dr. Pollio is the leader we want to follow,” Cummings said, receiving a standing ovation.
Despite the outpouring of support, Cushman realizes the power ultimately lands with the state board of education. The state board will have to vote on the commissioner’s recommendation, which is expected Monday.
“The state board is going to do what it’s going to do,” Cushman said in an email to Insider. “But we are making it known that SBDMs are against it, and these resolutions that are being passed are going into our official records and minutes.
“If they do approve a takeover, it is my hope that these SBDM resolutions might help if the local school board takes legal action against it,” Cushman said. McIntosh said the resolutions are also being sent to Lewis.
“Stakeholders need to know that their voices are being heard in the process of educating their children,” McIntosh said. “Local control is the most effective way to make that happen.”