Education

Five candidates are vying to be the new Jefferson County Board of Education member representing District 3, which covers the northeastern part of Louisville. (Incumbent Debbie Wesslund is not seeking re-election.)  You can check which school district you live in here.

What are your top priorities as a school board member? 

Lee Bailey: My top priority is to increase the proficiency level in math, reading and English for our graduating students. Having only 60 percent of our graduates college- or career-ready is unacceptable. The system is failing our kids in this regard.

Stephanie Horne: There are about 101,000 of them. That’s the 2014 enrollment of our schools. Slogans and educational fads pale beside the priority of raising achievement and the importance of each and every one of those children. Stronger financial stewardship. The budget is $1.4 billion. As a business owner and attorney I have the right experience to oversee this budget. Commitment to first-class schools. No excuses. JCPS, parents and community partners must work together to realize our shared vision of our children graduating on time and ready for college and/or career and life.

Angela Moorin: Addressing the 45 findings and 219 recommendations given by the State Auditor would be my top priority. It is imperative that we continue to redirect resources away from the bureaucratic central office and send them back to the schools and classrooms. I would then focus my attention on updating the presentation format of the working budget. The current budget is presented to the board in a format that is not easy to understand and therefore is difficult to discuss.

Al Scarpellini: JCPS must put children first. This means that politics, social engineering and administrative perks must be seriously questioned. The new American education mantra should be: “If it doesn’t benefit students directly, it doesn’t benefit the educational objective.”

Jan Scholtz: My first priority is improving the quality of JCPS education. The best way to do this is  to engage parents in their children’s education by having students attend schools close to their home. Establishing rapid response teams in every school to address student educational, social and economic issues that ultimately result in low student achievement is imperative. 

What is your position on charter schools?

Bailey: I am in favor of charter schools as this approach gives controls to the persons most in touch with the issues in that school. It is clear from the poor performance of JCPS that centralized, one size fits all education is not working.

Horne: There is no charter law in Kentucky, it is a state legislative issue. However, I will advocate to retain local control via JCPS board if any proposed legislation is considered by our state legislature. Any charter school legislation cannot hurt public school education. I am for having good schools for all children in all areas of Jefferson County.

Moorin: There are currently 42 states that have charter schools. Some of the best urban school districts in the nation have charter schools. The charter school decision has to be made in Frankfort—but I would be open to any innovative school that shows success in helping students reach their potential.

Scarpellini: Charter schools should not be funded with public funds.

Scholtz: My first priority is raising the academic achievement levels of our students. If charter school data suggests students achieve academic excellence and students excel using that business model, we need to seriously research and discuss the possibility of this alternative method.

What changes should be implemented because of State Auditor Adam Edelen’s audit earlier this year?

Bailey: Administrative positions need to be combined, reducing the inordinate amount of money being spent on non-teaching functions. Most of Edelen’s commentary gives a clear picture of the issues and points toward appropriate changes to remedy the deficiencies noted. JCPS should be required to correct the deficiencies immediately.

Horne: All 200 of the recommendations. The projected saving of tens of millions of dollars, the increased transparency of operations, and the reduction of potential for fraud and abuse all support that. Some will take several years, including adding two members to the school board (amending KRS 160.210). Some can be implemented rapidly when I am elected, such as giving the board ongoing comparisons with the audit benchmark districts, for example, and regular budget to actual reports, trend analysis, projections, and year-to-date line item variances.

Moorin: The Internal Audit Department director needs to report directly to the board. Also, the board should be in charge of tasking the Internal Audit Department’s priorities as well as approving the yearly audit plan. The State Auditor spoke to this directly and it needs to be done. This would be an invaluable tool for the board and help provide the proper level of oversight for the $1.4 billion budget.

Scarpellini: This is a seminal question. The State Auditor’s report should be implemented through a reduction of administrative staff and a review of administrative salaries. Administrative duties could be reduced to three or four days a week and the other days they could work all day with students at a school that needs improvement. This would give them true ownership in contributing directly to district improvement. Summers could be used to organize their administrative tasks to prepare for their new schedule.

Scholtz: Only 43 percent of our employees are teachers. That is the lowest percentage of any of the districts benchmarked in the audit. We need to increase the number of teachers in the schools. We need more textbooks in our classrooms and more textbooks for our students to take home. Over 369 JCPS administrative positions have salaries of over $100,000, which is outrageous and way above the benchmarked districts. An external audit of those positions should be approved and recommendations from the findings should be implemented.

What do you think of the JCPS school choice system?

Bailey: The choice system presents some valuable opportunities for those students involved. This should be expanded to provide similar programs at all schools, if there is sufficient interest. I am a firm believer that a sense of community makes learning easier and that neighborhood schools, whenever possible, are the answer. Choice should not require excessive travel; it should be available at all schools.

Horne: The real focus in school choice needs to be on the child and how our school choice system effects achievement, looking at the priorities that choices present and tradeoffs required to accomplish them. For example, research about student achievement shows that the strongest in-school variable typically is the amount of time spent with child/teacher instruction. If such time has a priority, then time on buses needs to be minimized and class time maximized. Another key variable is parent involvement, which can take extraordinary effort when schools are far and parents work outside the home. Ultimately, the more that we can move those decisions closer to the child, the better those decisions will be.

Moorin: Until we can offer a strong neighborhood elementary school to every citizen, we must allow parents a choice. Zip code cannot determine whether you have access to a quality school. Here are some interesting statistics.

Currently 44 percent of elementary families choose to attend a school outside their neighborhood.

Last year 97 percent of kindergarteners got their first or second choice.

We have one in four students choosing one of our magnet school programs.

Scarpellini: Choice should really be a choice; this means making every school an institution parents would want to choose for their children to attend. It also means following parents absolute freedom of choice to attend the school closest to their home.

Scholtz: All schools need to educate our students in reading, writing, match and science in order to compete in our global world. Several of our CEOs in the manufacturing sector have expressed concern regarding the small number of students graduating from JCPS that are qualified to operate today’s advanced machinery. The success of school choice is proven by the quality of life it provides its graduates. Student data should be regularly analyzed with the emphasis on expanding the successful programs and eliminating programs that are not successful.

What would you like to do to support JCPS’ lowest performing schools?

Bailey: I would return to the neighborhood school model. I would offer incentives to teaches who excel in their fields to take positions at these schools. I would press for more desirable programs to be added to the curriculum at these schools.

Horne: There is no “silver bullet.” Beyond implementing the 200 audit recommendations, we need to focus on the mechanics, such as reducing class size, textbooks, and increasing the instructional portion of the budget. We can accomplish multiple goals—like enhancing instruction time for the child and teacher, reducing lost classroom time, decreasing class sizes, modernizing and creating wireless classrooms, and reducing operations spending long-term—by having schools where our children and families are located. The audit barely addressed plan and facilities (other than warehousing), but this is an extraordinarily opportune time, with historically low interest costs, to build and renovate schools and surplus aged buildings. Connecting with our community partners to get this done is the key.

Moorin: We must strive to put an effective teacher in every classroom. We need to support our teachers, train our teachers, and give our teachers a path to becoming the most effective version of themselves. We must also hold them accountable to the same high standards that we expect from our students. I believe it is our teachers that have the potential to make the biggest impact on our lowest performing schools.

Scarpellini: The lowest performing schools need intervention not blame. Students and teachers need a targeted school-wide plan to guide all decision making and time to plan their implementation strategies with everyone who is assisting with instruction in any way. Smaller class sizes and additional adult assistance such as administrators who are attached to the school (stakeholders) could add to the management of the task of improving student performance.

Scholtz: Research from the Harvard Family Research Project from the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows that family involvement helps children get ready to enter school, promotes elementary school children’s success, prepares youth for college and supports all children, especially those less likely to succeed in school. Engaging parents and students in schools in their neighborhood make for an easier transition. In addition, establishing rapid response teams in every school to address student educational, social and economic issues that ultimately result in low student achievement is imperative. 

What are your views of the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s relationship with the school district?

Bailey: I am of the opinion that the teacher’s association is at odds with the district.

Horne: As with any union/employer relationship there are natural tensions. However, both groups are professionals who have dedicated their lives to education. They appear to currently have a successful working relationship. The 2014/15 budget negotiation are an example showing that although both groups appeared to be in drastic disagreement the two groups were able to compromise and come to agreement.

Moorin: Unions and management share the same goals. We want well-supported, effective teachers in every classroom.

Scarpellini: We live in a pluralistic political system. Even with non-partisan elections, four or five mailings from teachers’ or related interest groups, makes it easy to control the election; and therefore candidates. I have not and will not accept funds from any organization. I want to only be responsible to the voters of Jefferson County.

Scholtz: I feel there needs to be more collaboration to benefit the students and to raise the academic achievement levels of each student. The union contract needs to be more student-focused. For instance, the union contract only requires teacher to input student grades in the Infinite Campus/Parent Portal once a grading period. Parents need to see this critical information more often than once a grading period in order to identify problem areas in time for their child to catch up in the classroom.

What is your view of Superintendent Donna Hargens?

Bailey: I am pleased with the direction she is trying to take JCPS. She is facing a serious task to reform a broken system and fight a school board that is too often viewed as a rubber stamp for the teacher’s association and a system too filled with patronage. Major changes will need to be undertaken to allow her to accomplish the goal of bringing JCPS up to an acceptable level.

Horne: The Superintendent appears to have the capacity to lead the organization. As a board member from District 3 I will hold Dr. Hargens accountable to fulfill the shared vision in our community of ensuring that JCPS graduates more students on time and ready for college and/or career, and that more of our children are successful in school and life. I would like to see more accountability for increasing parental involvement and community collaboration, major determinatives of the success of a child.

Moorin: I think we are very fortunate to have Dr. Hargens. She has proven herself as a hard working leader who puts the needs of the students first. She has remained focused on finding ways to improve the district by calling for several different audits. Under her leadership, JCPS has made some impressive gains in the last few years and I believe with time, community support and disciplined effort we will become the best urban school district in the nation.

Scarpellini: Dr. Hargens works well with the current model that has very limited direction from the Jefferson County School Board. This quickly becomes apparent after 15 minutes into any School Board Meeting. I would demand more oversight and direction from the School Board.

Scholtz:  District achievement levels are below the state average.

– 69 percent of our JCPS elementary schools tested need improvement; 10 perfcent are proficient; 20 percent distinguished, according to the 2013-2014 Kentucky Report Card

– 75 percent of our JCPS middle schools tested need improvement; 13 percent are proficient; 13 percent are distinguished, according to the 2013-2014 Kentucky Report Card

-61 percent of our high schools tested need improvement; 5 percent are proficient; 33 percent are distinguished, according to the 2013-2014 Kentucky Report Card

-Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen makes scatching remarks about the inefficiencies within the JCPS budget

-Over 369 JCPS administrators have salaries over $100,000 per year

Dr. Hargens has a big job and lots of work to do.

The school board election is Tuesday. You can find questionnaires for the two other contested Jefferson County Board of Education elections here and here.