Jefferson County’s busing woes go on

Drivers won’t even take more cash to do most challenging routes

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - KidThe latest in the seemingly never ending saga of busing excesses in Jefferson County Public Schools is starting up again with the launch of another school year.

This time the issue is finding drivers to handle the district’s 50 worst bus routes. As one driver told WDRB:

“A challenging run consists of one bus driver with 50 plus kids that are out of control, crawling on the floors, jumping over seats, cussing, hitting other students, making obscene gestures, pulling pants down … You name it, they do it.”

That situation led to only 13 well-qualified drivers willing to go for the extra money involved to drive these 50 routes. So, only about one in four of these routes will have the kind of driver they really need.

Maybe if Jefferson County gave up on the failed idea of busing and fixed problems within schools instead, things would work better.

Will Jefferson County’s excessive busing crash due to driver shortages?

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - Kid
The Jefferson County Public Schools’ busing madness may be running up against a new problem.

After years of kids being hauled all over the school district – sometimes miles from their homes – boredom and resulting misbehavior among the students were inevitable consequences. It’s no secret that student behavior problems and other issues have been growing for years.

Now, however, the problems of students acting out on the buses has gotten so bad that the school system is facing a new situation: record retirement and resignation of bus drivers.

WDRB reports that the Jefferson County Public Schools system is currently about 75 to 100 drivers short of what is needed to operate this massive system next fall. Is it possible that a bus driver shortage will finally force the school district to take a more rational approach to fixing its schools?

After all, as we pointed out in our “Blacks Still Falling Through Gaps, the 2012 Update” report, busing isn’t fixing achievement gap problems in Louisville. It’s just moving it around a bit.

Here are some key points from WDRB:


  • JCPS drives more than 70,000 kids to school every day (That’s about 70% of the entire enrollment)
  • Crashes are common
  • There are bus fights: sometimes so bad drivers are forced to pull over and wait for police
  • A video surfaced last month showing a school bus dragging a 7-year-old old girl down the street
  • Someone shot at a bus

YIKES!

It would be MUCH better if Jefferson County pushed for a real charter school law in Kentucky so they could reform some of their biggest problem schools into higher performing charters where local neighborhood kids would want to go to school. I am pretty sure most kids in Louisville look at long bus rides to schools far away from home as boring and sometimes frightening. Furthermore, despite something like four decades of trying, buses have not fixed Louisville’s extensive education problems.

Terrible, low bang-for-the-buck education idea in Louisville

Do you think building and operating a really expensive mockup of a NASA space center and mission launch control in one of our schools is a great educational idea? Well, as the Courier-Journal reports today in “Challenger Learning Center ‘on hold’ by JCPS,” the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) did exactly that. Inevitably, this costly idea has now failed to successfully launch in what is a spectacular example of lousy bang-for-the-buck planning.

[Read more…]

Jefferson County Schools’ busing woes never end

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - Kid
We’ve written a ton of articles over the years about the expensive, environmentally unfriendly, and largely ineffective busing-for-integration effort that is still going on in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) (just search our blog using “busing Jefferson County” in the search window).

But, it looks like citizens of Kentucky’s biggest city just love to bang their head against the busing wall.

So, a new WAVE3.COM article about continuing violence on the buses is no surprise to us.

What is a surprise is the low learning curve about things that just don’t work for schools in Jefferson County. The Supreme Court figured out that busing wasn’t getting the job done years ago and dropped the mandate to bus for integration in Louisville.

Louisvillians keep on doing it to themselves, anyway, never seeming to realize that moving a black child to a school with better test scores for whites provides no guarantee that the black child will get the same education. In fact, that black child might not even wind up in the same classroom with the whites.

The WAVE3 article says that fights on Louisville’s school buses are down from 269 two years ago to 172 last year.

But, the article also says that John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, the union that represents bus drivers, claims, “When some bus drivers report fights to the principal, who is the only one with the power to suspend a child from the bus, the incident is sometimes swept under the rug.” So, who knows what the real fight numbers are?

And, in 2012 the Courier-Journal pointed out that problems on the buses extend beyond fights to bullying and other forms of unruliness.

In any event, one fight is too many, but having something on the order of several hundred fights a year signals problems.

When you couple the bus violence with the evidence we assembled a couple of years ago that moving kids all over the map in Louisville didn’t result in better scores for the under-privileged kids who got sent to supposedly better schools on the East side of Louisville, it’s clearly past time for Louisville to fix its neighborhood schools, especially those in the West End. That way, students can thrive in a nearby school and parents can be close by for support, too. This would be a far better solution than burning huge amounts of diesel to operate what too often turn into rolling fight arenas.

JCPS doesn’t know how to fix those neighborhood schools you say. Then let’s – finally – try the charter school approach! We obviously need them in Louisville – and now in Lexington, too.

Suspension chaos in Louisville’s “reformed” problem middle schools

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Could a charter school system have worked better?

Louisville’s Robert Frost Middle School and Myers Middle School have been a major problem for years.

Frost was tagged as a Persistently Low-Achieving School (PLAs) in the very first “Cohort” named in the spring of 2010. Myers followed into Persistently Low-Achieving status about a year and a half later when Cohort 3 PLAs were identified in October of 2011. Since then, both schools have blazed a trail of continued mediocrity so bad that the Jefferson County Board of Education essentially closed them at the end of the past school term.

But, the fix adopted by the board already shows disconcerting evidence that failure to educate former students from Myers and Frost continues.

[Read more…]

Lack of transparency: You don’t have to go to Washington to find it

There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days about intentional lack of transparency with the development and enactment of the Affordable Care Act, but Kentuckians don’t have to look to Washington for examples of the public’s business being kept from the public and their elected officials.

In fact, a story WDRB is breaking in Louisville shows the elected officials at the Jefferson County Board of Education were kept in the dark regarding questionable employee actions and an expensive settlement negotiated behind closed doors.

The issue concerns a former employee who once held a six-figure salary job as Jefferson County’s public information officer. That job was cut and the employee moved to human resources, getting a lower-paying – but still six-figure – salary. The employee didn’t last long in human resources, getting fired “for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.”

All of this happened without the vast majority, perhaps all, of the Jefferson County Board of Education having even a clue about what was occurring.

The school district defended the secrecy surrounding a $200,000 settlement, saying:

“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things. Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers’ checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”

Well, here are just a few questions about management in Jefferson County Schools all the secrecy has left unanswered. In raising them, I want to stress that the secrecy in this situation does not allow the public to know if the employee actually was wronged or was in the wrong.

• If the six-figure salary job of public information officer was eliminated, who now performs those functions? Were there two very highly paid people nominally doing this at Jefferson County?
• Was the employee’s move from public information to a six-figure salary human resources position a good skills fit? Who determined that? Was this really just a make-work action?
• Was the firing actually justified? Does the district’s refusal to defend its action actually indicate the firing might not be justified? If the firing was actually questionable, who is being held accountable? How would a similar mistake be avoided in the future if everything is secret?
• If the firing was justified, what kind of precedent is set by the district’s failure to stand behind its actions? Doesn’t this open the taxpayer up to unending, expensive settlements that might not be justified?
• Should the elected board of education be involved with actions, especially job terminations, involving high level district personnel? Is there a legal requirement for such involvement? If so, is there a salary point or job description that would determine the need for board involvement?
• Most important of all, what is being done, if anything, to preclude another expensive action like this in the future? Are the best interests of the taxpayers served by just sweeping this under the rug?

Keep in mind that Jefferson County School’s management history is already under question for being far from stellar. A recent audit by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen raised lots of questions about how the district was handling the public’s tax dollars. Right now, it looks like somewhere around $200,000 more of those tax dollars might have been poorly spent while the local board of education – again – was left without a clue.

Jefferson County gets good midterm score for moving to fix audit problems

BUT, the full ‘Term’ is far from over, and a lot still remains to be done

WDRB reports that Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen gave the Jefferson County Public Schools an ‘A’ a couple of days ago at a Louisville Forum luncheon for the way the district is moving out in response to a major and critical audit his office conducted about a half a year ago.

That is good news, because initially there was a lot of denial in Louisville when the audit was released.

Still, other comments in the WDRB report make it clear that Auditor Edelen’s grade is only a mid-term report, and a lot of work remains before any final scores can be assigned.

For example, the audit was very critical of Jefferson County’s bloated and overpaid staff. Instead of meeting this one head on by themselves, the district is going to spend $192,000 of taxpayer money to buy cover with an independent staffing study from Management Advisory Group International, Inc. So far, I don’t know if a single job has been cut, but this study contract would just about pay for two more of those high-priced Jefferson County staffers. Any performance grades for this important and expensive area are premature, at present.

Also, the district’s new fiscal transparency web site is behind schedule. The district promises it is coming, but this effort clearly gets an “Incomplete” grade, at best, right now.

However, it is encouraging that Jefferson County has apparently worked through its denial issues and is moving to make changes. Whether this traditionally rather ingrown school system can actually fill its audit response portfolio with all the required items conducted with acceptable levels of performance remains to be seen.

How will the new Jefferson County Schools of Innovation help students in Persistently Low-Achieving Schools?

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Can Jefferson County even afford these new school ideas?

Last night the Jefferson County Board of Education selected two models to be the district’s first “Schools of Innovation” under Kentucky’s “Districts of Innovation” law. Collectively, the choices were disappointing.

Jefferson County has the state’s largest concentration of “Persistently Low-Achieving” high schools – 10 of them. But, neither of the new schools of innovation models pays any attention to high school level activities. There are no high schools of innovation ideas in either choice.

Even the two ideas that were selected may prove problematic to actually implement. WDRB reports that board of education member Debbie Wesslund said at the meeting:

We need more details – we don’t know how we will pay for this, we don’t have specifics as to where (they will be located).”

So, the good ship “Innovation” has launched in Louisville with the best of intentions, but it is sailing into uncharted waters and hasn’t even set a course towards the most troubled areas. In fact, Louisville’s good ship Innovation may not have enough fuel in its tank to complete any mission.

Bluntly put, this first effort in Jefferson County stands in sharp contrast to the good things that could happen for kids if Kentucky had adopted a real charter school law instead of the weak sister “Districts of Innovation” bill. With real charter schools, innovation comes to the ingrown and inward looking traditional public school system from outside sources including parents and others such as concerned colleges. Real charter schools tap new resources the traditional system never considers.

With Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation, whatever change happens can only come from teachers within the existing system. Even more limiting, in most cases 70 percent of the teachers in a school have to agree before a school can become an innovation school. So, the Districts/Schools of Innovation program mostly looks like a recipe for the status quo, which is exactly what Jefferson County will now get from its Schools of Innovation program in its numerous low-achieving high schools.

[Read more…]

A new twist in the Male High cheating scandal???


The cheating scandal at Louisville’s Male High School may have taken yet another interesting turn.

Early in July the Kentucky Department of Education released a “Kentucky Assessment Allegation Report” on the Male situation. The report indicated among many other things that staff members at Male were threatened with being “Overstaffed” if they didn’t comply. Overstaffing would mean the teachers would lose their highly desirable jobs at this competitive magnet high school. Overstaffed teachers in Jefferson County schools are put in a district-wide teacher hiring pool and can wind up almost anywhere in the system.

So, it looks like “overstaffing” was being used as a threat to force teacher compliance at Male.

Furthermore, a Courier-Journal education blog reported that the former Male High principal – who currently faces possible disciplinary action from the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board – did announce a number of teaching staff positions were “overstaffed.” Those teachers would be losing their teaching positions at the end of the 2013-14 school term.

Putting the Courier-Journal’s blog and the Assessment Allegation Report together, a question arises: “Was that former overstaffing declaration at Male a legitimate assessment of the school’s staffing needs or an attack against teachers who didn’t go along?”

New information now makes that question even more interesting.

A July 29, 2014 WDRB news release says that seven of the nine school staff members the former principal had declared as “overstaffed” in fact are still needed and will be back at Male in the coming school year! In addition, an eighth staff member apparently could also have returned but decided to stay with a new school assignment, instead.

So, in the vast majority of the overstaffing cases at Male, it looks like the teachers were not truly overages at all.

Hmmmm.

In light of Myers Middle School closing, Louisville pastors call for school choice options

“The Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options Pastors Coalition…is saddened by this attempt to defraud our people and cheat our students out of a great education.”

The Louisville-based group’s response to the closing of Myer’s Middle School was published in an op-ed featured in the Monday edition of the Courier-Journal.

In their letter, the pastors recounted how the Kentucky Department of Education labeled 18 Jefferson County schools as “low-performing” and outlined the department’s subsequent efforts to promote academic achievement in the district. Unfortunately, progress was elusive in a number of those schools, particularly in Myers Middle School. As such, the school district voted on May 12 to close the school, “a decision that lacks community voice and parent insight.”

The seventh and eighth grade students of failing Myers Middle School will now be attending the failing Waggener High School where they will be taught separately. In other words, Jefferson County School officials are responding to failure by sending them to another low-performing school. Can progress really be expected out of the closure if this is the remedy?

According to report findings, Jefferson County Schools have over 360 administrators that are paid over $100,000 to make Jefferson County school decisions. While these bureaucrats are lining their pocketbooks, teachers all across the district are unable to get funding for necessary classroom supplies or better technology to help their students learn. Instead of empowering our students with the tools and education they need for a bright future, Jefferson County Schools are setting them up for failure. Unfortunately, that failure falls hardest on our low-income children, about half of which are minority children.

In the face of failing schools across the state, both the Bluegrass Institute and The Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options Pastors Coalition strongly support the legalization of school choice, including the adoption of charter schools to supplement our current education system. Charter schools (which are not, in fact, private schools) have proven to be hugely successful in neighboring states, such as Tennessee and Indiana. If implemented, charter schools would provide high-quality education options for our children, and we simply cannot continue to send our students to failing schools.

Elaina Waters, BIPPS Intern