How things were MUCH different with the improperly fired board
I wrote last week about how “Suppressing KY Board of Education questions regarding oversight of JCPS isn’t transparency.” That blog discusses the complete shutdown of any questions from board members regarding a report about the important work being done to remedy long-term problems in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) during the dubiously reconstituted board’s April 9, 2020 meeting.
My initial blog pointed to two separate items in the formal presentation on JCPS progress:
- Some surprising claims about tax rates in the JCPS district and
- A surprising (to me) announcement that the long-operating JCPS student assignment plan was in fact NOT offering school choice to most students from West Louisville – an astonishing confirmation of a major problem the Bluegrass Institute has been criticizing for a long time.
I was disturbed when the formal presentation – well done by the JCPS superintendent, Marty Pollio, by the way – was abruptly ended by board chair David Karem without allowing any questions from board members. Certainly, there were many areas in Pollio’s presentation that invited questions, but the tax claim and the busing admission definitely merited more discussion. Pollio even closed his formal comments by inviting questions. But, Karem wouldn’t allow it, and none of his board members protested being muzzled, either.
When I wrote the first blog, my impression was that the old board would not have operated this way. But, I decided to see if I could really prove this for you. How did the old board conduct business when Dr. Pollio made similar presentations? Getting a good answer turned out to be easier than I imagined.
I only had to look back to the old board’s last meeting on December 4, 2019. The old board’s agenda item in December for Pollio’s presentation was titled, “Update on Jefferson County Public Schools (Review Item) – Superintendent Marth Pollio.” This reads EXACTLY the same as the agenda item for the new board’s April 9, 2020 meeting, right down to the “Review Item” specification.
So, how did things run under the old board? Click the “Read more” link to find out.
The old board’s chair didn’t use the lame excuse that this was a “Review Item” to shut down questions. Far from it.
Instead, while Dr. Pollio’s December presentation lasted just under 16 minutes, time for questions from board members plus added comments from Dr. Wayne Lewis, the former commissioner of education, ran even longer at 21 minutes.
The old board’s members asked a total of eight questions. Two of those questions actually dealt with the same school busing issue that caused my surprise during the April 9, 2020 meeting.
The first question came from old board member Milton Seymore at about 52 minutes into the meeting. It dealt with problems with the JCPS student assignment plan, which basically determines how busing is conducted in the district. Pollio stated in his response to Seymore’s question that 65% of the students from the West Louisville area of JCPS were not getting a choice to go to a local area school. Instead, and without their desiring it, the 65% were being bused away to other areas of the school district, sometimes as far as 22 miles away.
Another board member then asked for a clarification about what the 65% figure really meant. In his answer, Pollio said that while less than 1% of the students from other areas of JCPS were denied their choice to go to a local school, for students in West Louisville the percentage not getting such a choice was indeed 65%.
It was an astonishing admission of serious bias that has existed in JCPS school assignments for a long time.
By the way, you can hear this interesting exchange from the December 4, 2019 board meeting for yourself by clicking on this video, which starts at a little over the 52-minute mark into the meeting.
Now, here’s a key point: None of this information about the lack of school choice for Louisville’s predominantly poor and minority part of town would have even come up if the old board members at that December meeting had not been allowed to ask questions. Pollio’s formal presentation didn’t address the student assignment plan.
And, this is a great example of why suppressing board member questions is absolutely unacceptable. Certainly, a committee chair needs to keep order at meetings, but that must not entitle that chair to dominate the discussion. If we allow such domination, we might as well get rid of the other board members and save some money on their costs while the chair runs everything as a dictator.
So, here’s the deal. The Kentucky Board of Education members should not be there just there to warm a chair. They need to be asking pertinent questions based on doing their homework before and during each meeting. And, during the meeting, the members need to assert their right and duty to ask such questions. When this doesn’t happen, it sends a message the board members don’t know or don’t care about problems like those in JCPS, and that just isn’t going to fly.