Education

The Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education gathered for six hours Tuesday evening in a marathon series of meetings to make decisions about the district’s budget, bond issuance, and changes to the job descriptions of hundreds of JCPS employees.

The top issue was a reorganization plan that drew dozens of JCPS staff to the meeting, with concerns about changes that could affect their jobs and salaries.

“I want to say to you that we have made people cry, we have made people anxious, and don’t say it’s not a big deal, because it is,” said board member Diane Porter.

Reorganization Of Staff Positions And Job Descriptions

The Board of Education ultimately approved a rewrite of the district’s organizational charts and job descriptions, after Superintendent Marty Pollio assured the Board the final proposal would not include expected changes that would affect school psychologists and social workers.

Board members initially received a plan for review that would have reduced school psychologists’ working days and their pay grade, and would have eliminated some social workers and assistant directors of pupil personnel. Pollio said those proposals would not be in the final organizational charts the board was asked to approve, although documents affirming that were not available as the meeting ended.

“It puts me in a very awkward position to be asked to vote on something and to have the good faith that what we’ve negotiated and what we’ve been told will happen, will happen tomorrow,” board member Corrie Shull said.

The final vote to approve the reorganization was 5 to 2, with Porter and Shull voting against, and every board member expressing concerns about the way the proposal was rolled out.

Board members criticized the JCPS administration for releasing the reorganization plan just 12 days before the board was expected to vote on it. Tuesday’s vote was also scheduled one day before the annual deadline for JCPS to notify staff of any personnel changes affecting their pay or job descriptions. Several members said they had spent much of the past week hearing constituents’ concerns over the reorganization.

“I think I’ve probably used every communication method short of Morse code to respond to constituents,” said board member Chris Brady.

Brady said it was difficult to consider all the changes in the new organizational charts. He said he asked a central office staff worker to print out the reorganization plan, and was told that would be impractical because all of the board materials for Tuesday amounted to 7,000 pages.

The final approved plan will reduce the pay grade of dozens of administrators, but also includes a hold harmless clause so that employees would see no immediate pay reduction.

Pollio said the organizational changes are meant to update job descriptions, align job titles with appropriate pay grades, and save money that could be redirected for other programs.

“I know this is tough, but we’re going to examine all of the dollars that we have and the programs that we have for impact, and make sure that we’re doing the right things for our students and our schools,” Pollio said.

He said the district will reevaluate other positions in the future — including school psychologists and social workers — to consider the best use of the district’s funds.

Bonds And Budget

The Board of Education unanimously approved a tentative budget for the 2019-2020 school year. The board will consider a tax rate change in August to maximize local funding, and will move toward a working budget in the fall.

JCPS board members also approved issuing more than $61 million in bonds to fund renovations at seven schools, including more than $30 million to replace the HVAC at Dupont Manual High School. The bonds will also be used to finance HVAC system repairs and roof replacements at six other schools.

“I think that Manual obviously does need some renovations, but I question the wisdom of issuing a bond that’s for $34 plus million,” said board member Chris Brady, adding that the cost could continue to grow after repairs begin.

“I have concerns about that because when you start taking a look at some of the newer high schools within the state of Kentucky, they’re usually around the $80 million range,” Brady said, arguing that a new building might be a better investment toward creating greener schools that also offer students a better learning environment. Brady called the district’s approach to renovations “piecemeal.”

JCPS Chief Operations Officer Michael Raisor responded that the district must be “judicious” to remain within its bonding capacity to address all the district’s capital needs, as 30 to 40 schools will soon reach end-of-life status.

The Board approved the bonds in a 6 to 1 vote, with Brady casting the only nay vote.

Superintendent Evaluation

In a work session earlier Tuesday afternoon, the Board discussed its plan to evaluate Superintendent Pollio, as state law requires all Kentucky school boards to do annually. The board has chosen to follow evaluation guidelines from the Kentucky School Boards Association. The board will rate Pollio on a four point scale, from “improvement required” to “developing” to “accomplished” to “exemplary.”

Pollio quipped that he appreciates that the evaluation is both public, and takes a year to complete. The board is expected to approve a final evaluation report in July.