Election 2018

In Jefferson County, there are seven seats on the Board of Education. All are non-partisan, and voters elect representation based on where they live.

This year, four seats are on the ballot, and only two of those races are contested. One of those contested races is the District 3 seat; it’s currently held by Stephanie Horne, who is not running for re-election. The district is in Northeast Jefferson County mostly outside of the Watterson; here’s a map.

In the 3rd District of the Jefferson County School Board race, the candidates are James Craig, Jenny Benner and Derek Jermaine Guy.

Craig and Guy participated in a forum held by the League of Women Voters last month. Here are some of their responses; answers have been edited for clarity.

Derek Jermaine Guy:

“My name is Derek Guy. I am 27 years old. And I live here in the great district of District three. I decided to run for school board because I have a five-year-old who’s about to be six who’s in one of our amazing elementary schools known as Lowe Elementary. But previously he had been a part of our Head Start program here in JCPS and actually went to a school that one of the substantiations were on during the previous year of audits. I was very upset and frustrated like most parents who had to deal with the outcomes of the audit and I felt like my best bet was to be involved. I’m fairly young and most people my age aren’t running for office. So I felt like this was pretty much the best time while my kid was still young and could still see me do some change.”

James Craig:

“My name is James Craig. Very happy to be up here and to be running for this seat. I’ve said many times throughout the course of the campaign that I think the role of a Jefferson County Board Member overseeing the Jefferson County Public Schools is one of the most important positions in Jefferson County. I think it’s even more important, when you put it in context, than the position of the office of Mayor.

We have a $1.6 billion budget. We have 101,000 students in JCPS, we have 6,700 teachers. We also have 6,700 homeless students. You can do more as a Jefferson County Board of Education member, I think, than any other elected official in the city of Louisville. 39 years old, graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, happy to own a small business and attorney by trade. Our law firm practices civil rights, employment and consumer litigation. Husband and father of two JCPS students. Happy to have served two terms on Middletown Elementary site-based decision making council. My wife Jacquelyn, who’s in the back row with our children, is serving her third term. So looking forward to a good discussion of the issues tonight.”

What are the main challenges you see facing our school district?

Craig:

“I think the biggest challenge facing JCPS is its public image. In my opinion, given the amount of money that we spend in this community and the amount of impact that JCPS has in this community, JCPS really should be the crown jewel of all things Louisville Metro. But unfortunately, JCPS has been mired in some unnecessary problems brought on by itself over the last couple of years, which is detracting from the impact that it can have on the community.

Obviously, I was frustrated with the proposed state takeover, as I think the vast majority of the citizens in district three were — at least that’s what I see when I go door-to-door speaking with the voters in district three. We need to make sure that we get JCPS back on the right track so that in two years under the next audit with Dr. Lewis and the Kentucky Department of Education, the issues before are resolved and we can move forward together as a district”

Guy:

“I believe the biggest issues with JCPS has to do with diversity and equity. I think that the board has tried very hard to discuss these issues and put something into place. But it’s been a long conversation that hasn’t had much progress happen.

I feel like this is an issue due to the fact that the board tends to be seven Caucasian individuals, which is not representative of Louisville in the vast diversity we have in this city. So my goal is to be a part of that change and to push our board towards making sure that we are really being inclusive and we really have all the same services for every school across JCPS, not just the East End.”

Do you believe the charter school movement is a threat to JCPS?

Craig:

“I think the charter school movement is a threat to the budget of JCPS. Everyone who approaches education, in my view, for the most part, has the best interest of students at mind and at heart and I don’t want to detract from anybody who is coming to the table with a creative new solution. But on the flip side, I’m still suspicious of the companies that are forming these charter schools. And I see statistics in other areas of the country where charter schools have not been successful and have not delivered the results to local communities that were promised by the authorizers.

So yes, I’m very concerned about the charter school movement. It’s not a JCPS board issue today, because we haven’t funded charter schools, but I’m going to approach the authorization of a charter school very suspiciously, if it ever comes before the board, if it ever is fully funded by the General Assembly. And right now, I don’t see a way that I would vote to authorize a charter school unless something were to change drastically.”

Guy:

“I believe that charter schools are huge threat for JCPS. I come from a city where charter schools have truly hurt our city and my son is one of those students who would be greatly impacted by that, being a five-year-old biracial ADHD kid there will be a lot of movement for him if charter schools come into the city. There will be a lot of struggle for him to get the services he needs. I felt like JCPS is in a very vulnerable situation right now. And that’s when charter schools tend to prey upon school districts. So I am a huge opponent to charter schools and there will never be any way that I find myself voting in favor of those.”

With decreasing support from the state, in order for JCPS to make the improvements mandated by the state Department of Education, additional funds are necessary. What methods, such as a tax increase or other sources of funds do you support to improve JCPS?

Guy:

“I believe that JCPS is in a very vulnerable situation as I said already. I think that I am a full proponent of not necessarily increasing taxes, but looking at where our money is going currently, and reissuing those funds. I also am a social worker, so the way that we work is we get by with the least amount of funds. I’ve done a lot of grant-writing proposals and so have many cities around the country. I feel like JCPS should really look into those and utilize those because there’s a lot of national money out there that Jefferson County isn’t utilizing but we could be utilizing.”

Please explain how you would ensure adequate funding for a quality education for every student.

“Looking at the numbers, looking at the disparity and seeing where those funds are going, making sure that we are really looking at equality and equity across the board. So if the East End is doing perfectly fine right now, I don’t feel that’s where our best interest in our money should be going. And I know that’s very hard to sit in the East End and to have that opinion, but I’ve actually been to the West End and I’ve had a son in the West End schools and seeing how they operate and see that they need more funds and they need more services out there so we can stabilize as a city. I definitely think that going back to the drawing board and re-looking at where we’re putting our money is the best interest for the board right now.”

Craig:

“I’ll say first that I wish that we were not in this position. I wish that we weren’t dealing with decreased funding from the state. And I can assure you that the first place I’m going to go to is back to Frankfort. When the General Assembly opens and when appropriation decisions are made in the next two years, I can guarantee you that you will see me in the halls of Frankfort, doing my best to advocate for the return to those funds back into JCPS.

Beyond that, what are what are our options? We have the right to a four percent tax increase each year without a recall. There is the option for a nickel tax. We were criticized heavily in the audit by the Kentucky Department of Education for not utilizing that tax authority and we have bonding authority and we need money in the school system if we’re going to turn it into the school system that this city needs. So yes, all those options are going to be on the table.

I know there’s a lot of frustration in the community right now with the tax increase. I know the KDE has criticized JCPS heavily for not utilizing that taxing authority. The fact that we haven’t has put us behind the eight ball and we need to be aggressive with these financial decisions in the future.”

Please explain how you would ensure adequate funding for a quality education for every student.

“I’ll start with community support. If we’re going to look at another four percent tax increase next year — and I’m not saying that as James Craig is elected, that’s a guaranteed thing — but it appears based on everything that JCPS’ CFO has told the board to date, we’re going to need that next year. We need to ensure we have community support for that. That means being completely transparent at all levels of the board in any way, shape, or form that we can and making sure the community has an opportunity to seek input on those tax increases, perhaps with longer lead way than the community had this this last cycle. Beyond that we need to be creative and look at all options. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I commend the Jefferson County Teachers Association for putting forth this proposal under its new contract for incentive funding. And some of our priority schools are now level three schools, we need to make sure that the students who need it are getting the adequate funding that they need.”

What factors do you think contribute to the achievement gap in this district?

Craig:

“I think there are a million different factors that can contribute to the achievement gap.

I’ll begin with the obvious: we have an ugly history of race relations in the city of Louisville, and it’s something that we’re still dealing with. I’ve served the last four years, I believe, on the Metro Housing Coalition Board of Directors, seeking new, creative ways to overcome the fact that this community is — and remains to be — a segregated community.

The wealth inequality that exists inherently in the city of Louisville today is leading to it. It’s hard for a student to show up on the first day of school ‘kindergarten-ready’ if their mother’s working three jobs, if they don’t have all the community supports they need, if the limited community supports that they have are under attack and are being threatened, if they’re dealing with trauma, if they’re dealing with unstable family situations. There’s a host; it’s impossible to pin down in 60 seconds.”

What do you think should be done to improve student performance in that regard?

“What should we do to overcome the achievement gap in Jefferson County? We need all hands on deck, and again in 60 seconds. It’s hard to really pin down a good soundbite there. I’ll begin though, with doing everything that we can to make sure that all families are engaged in the process as much as possible. I’ve said a lot of times that the best indicator, in my opinion, of a student’s success in school is the level of parental involvement. It’s hard for parents to be involved if they’re dealing with socioeconomic issues at home, if they are having a hard time getting into the classroom and being an active participant in their children’s education.

Had a great meeting with the Wilder PTA and heard that the Wilder principal is now hosting parent-teacher conferences in the portions of the community where those students are coming from, which I thought was a great idea. It was the first time that I had heard it and is the type of creative thinking that we can bring to the district level to start dealing with this issue.”

Guy:

“You know, I always try to chuckle to myself when I get this question because it’s clear as day but not many people want to look at it. Louisville has a huge race issue and a huge socioeconomic issue. I have been in the city for going on five years now. And even to live out here in the East End, we are highly impoverished because of it. I never really cover my background or let people out me in a bad way. But I feel like it’s something that is really important as I’m knocking on doors and other places that people wouldn’t think to go. So the apartment complexes here and hearing people say, ‘I’ve been evicted four or five times, but I have to live on this side of town if I want my kid to get a good education.’ I’m in that boat, I see that boat. I definitely think that race is one of the most important issues that Jefferson County has right now. And it’s not going to be fixed if we can’t at least diversify our board and diversify our teachers.”

What do you think should be done to improve student performance in that regard?

“Being a social worker for this long, definitely having the services that each family needs, meeting people where they’re at, going to their houses and talking with them. I know that is hard for my white counterparts a lot of times because there’s not a lot of trust there. So that’s where I say JCPS, we need to look at our diversity and equity across the board and seeing how we’re getting black teachers in the classroom so black parents feel more comfortable coming up to the school and not being vilified. I think that that’s an important issue that JCPS isn’t looking at and hasn’t really worked very hard to overcome and to address so I definitely think that that’s one of the best ways to overcome that.”

What changes would you make to student assignment in order to equitably promote diversity and enhance student achievement?

Craig:

“I’m not sure today that I would recommend any specific change to the student assignment plan. I’m a fan of the current student assignment plan and I’m not ashamed to say it. I think that a lot of the parents in the East End are happy with their school selection and parents in other portions of the community are not happy with some of the options that are available to them. And we need to counter the problems created by the achievement gap and the well-stated wishes of most parents in the community for choice in that assignment of their children’s school by balancing all of these considerations in place.

I know that under the current settlement agreement with the KDE we’re taking another fresh look at the student assignment plan. Dr. Kolb on the board is chairing a committee that is going to make recommendations to the board about changes. I hope the final iteration continues to keep diversity and choice at the forefront of an individual parent’s consideration.”

Guy:

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our student assignment plan right now. I think that there comes disparity when there is a lack of understanding and education. My number one goal would be to go into the communities and truly sit down with the families that are struggling with our student assignment and figure out what their needs are and how to best address those.

I think that JCPS has a good student assignment plan. I think that, like James said, everyone on the East End tends to be pretty happy with their student assignment plan. The issues come when the West End doesn’t have the same funds as the East End schools have. So then there are a lot of people in the West End who don’t want to do the student assignment plan because their schools are not the same as our schools out here. So I definitely think we need to look at the budget, figure out how much money we’re giving each school and figure out if it’s truly equal and how we’re spreading it out amongst the schools.”

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.