Education Election 2020

In the race for District 2 of the Jefferson County Board of Education, incumbent and Spalding University professor Chris Kolb is being challenged by Jody Hurt, a freelance musician seeking his first stint in public office.

The main point of contention between Kolb and Hurt is where they stand on the 9.5% property tax increase the board passed in May, which may be subject to a recall vote in November.

Both Kolb and Hurt are parents of JCPS students and are seeking to represent the largely affluent, liberal and white areas of the Highlands and St. Matthews.

Kolb, 45, is finishing his first school board term, which began in 2017. The Atherton High School graduate holds a doctorate in anthropology from Johns Hopkins University and teaches anthropology and urban studies at Spalding. He has been endorsed by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Hurt, 41, is a graduate of Floyd County Schools, and has a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Louisville and a Master of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts. Hurt is a freelance musician and consultant. He ran as an independent in the 2018 state Senate race for District 26, gaining 1.9% of the vote. He has the endorsement of Dear JCPS, an advocacy group for transparency and accountability in JCPS.

Candidates Differ On Taxes

Kolb has been the school board’s most vocal champion of the tax increase. JCPS has faced years of declines in state per-pupil spending, as well as flat federal funding per pupil. Kolb said the district has to increase its local contribution to fill the gap and has criticized past boards for opting not to raise taxes.

“The money is not going to come from anywhere but ourselves,” he said. “We’re the only ones that can really step up and provide the kids the resources that they need to succeed.”

The increase is 7 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That means a $200,000 home would see its annual tax bill rise by $140.

Kolb said he recognizes the timing is not ideal given the pandemic and global recession, but if the increase doesn’t pass this year, the board would have to wait another two years until the next election to try again.

“Our kids just can’t wait that long,” he said.

Hurt has a different take. He said he recognizes there is a need for more funding but can’t support raising taxes this year.

“The current tax plan was passed during a global pandemic, when many of us are out of our jobs,” he said. “And one of the concerns that I have with this situation is that it actually works to degrade trust in the institution itself.”

Hurt suggested the district has been dismissive of concerns from residents about the increase, particularly Black west Louisville residents who fear the increased revenues won’t be spent equitably.

Instead of raising taxes, Hurt has proposed a 10% salary cut to all administrators making over $65,000. The average salary for JCPS administrators is $106,246, according to the district.

Analysis by WFPL News shows a 10% salary cut to all administrators would save $10.7 million. The district is seeking $50 million through the tax increase.

But the future is uncertain for the tax increase, which will appear on the November ballot. It’s unclear whether votes on the measure will count, as the district is challenging the validity of the recall petition. Meanwhile, opponents have challenged the legality of the 9.5% increase.

Views On Other Issues

On many key issues, Kolb and Hurt have similar views. Both adamantly oppose charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. They also oppose state intervention in the district. JCPS narrowly avoided a state takeover in 2018 and has since been under a corrective action plan to improve outcomes for Black students and students with disabilities. They both support proposed student assignment plan changes that would enable more West End students to attend schools in their neighborhoods. And each candidate sees racial equity as a priority.

Kolb cites his work navigating the attempted takeover and corrective action plan as one of his major successes. He also touts his efforts to successfully remove former JCPS superintendent Donna Hargens from office in 2017 and bring in new leadership to reorganize the central office. He said he sees the major challenge moving forward as continuing to find more funding to reduce class sizes, improve facilities, and build schools in the West End to support the district’s proposed student assignment changes.

Hurt said as a school board member he would want to move away from standardized testing — even though most tests are mandated by state and federal laws. He suggested the district could turn down revenue sources that come with testing mandates and make up the difference through fundraising. It’s not clear that turning down funding would exempt JCPS from state and federal education laws.

In addition, Hurt said he would advocate for more school-level control, parent oversight and nontraditional programming that is less focused on “giving [students] facts” and more focused on character-building.

“That kind of a change, that kind of a revolution in education, cannot come from the top-down. That has to come from local individual schools and teachers and parents,” he said.

School board members serve four-year terms. Three of seven seats are up for election this fall. In addition to District 2, candidates Sarah Cole McIntosh and Tammy Stewart are squaring off in District 7 in southeastern Jefferson County. In District 4, in southwest Louisville, incumbent Joe Marshall is running unopposed.

Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting is underway. You can find your polling station and early voting dates and times here.

 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.