Education Politics

The head of Kentucky’s education department says that a state takeover of Louisville’s public school system would be “costly,” and that a hearing over the matter will likely take place in the late summer or early fall.

Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told a legislative panel on Thursday that he couldn’t discuss specific costs of the potential takeover until the state board of education approves it.

“It would be inappropriate for me to go forward in talking about what a plan would be,” Lewis said. “That has to be developed in collaboration with the district after a decision’s been made by the state board of education.”

Lewis was hired to be interim education commissioner following the ouster of former commissioner Stephen Pruitt after Gov. Matt Bevin’s appointees assumed control of the state board of education earlier this year.

One of Lewis’ first actions was to release a scathing audit of Jefferson County Public Schools and recommend that the state assume control of the district’s management.

The audit reported that the district had a pattern of improperly restraining and punishing students, used non-certified teachers, and inconsistently managed student instruction, reinforcing problems in low-performing schools, among other findings.

Lewis said taking over management of the district would be worth the cost.

“We’re talking about the safety of children, children being neglected and abused. And I would spend our last dime in Jefferson County or anywhere else in this commonwealth to protect children,” Lewis said.

Rep. Rick Rand, a Democrat from Bedford, argued that Lewis should present his plan for managing the district before the board decides whether to enact a takeover.

“I would submit to you that if we don’t have a plan at this point, we’re going down the wrong road,” Rand said.

The JCPS board voted last month to appeal the recommendation for a takeover, triggering a public hearing that Lewis said will likely take place “in late summer or early fall.”

State lawmakers from both political parties have voiced concern about a takeover, saying that fixing the district should be left up to locally elected leaders.

Bevin supports the takeover, saying that the district’s problems are so severe that “we have got to make changes.”

In his recommendation for state management, Lewis said he would leave local superintendent Marty Pollio in charge of day-to-day operations of the district but require him to follow a corrective action plan and report weekly to state officials.

The locally elected school board would be relegated to an “advisory role” under Lewis’ plan.

The state has taken over a handful of school districts since it got the power to do so under the Kentucky Education Reform Act, passed in 1990.

The districts in Menifee and Breathitt counties are currently under state management.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.