A group of CEOs that is trying to use its collective influence to make change locally has public education and, by extension, Jefferson County Public Schools in its crosshairs.
Humana founder David Jones Sr., who leads the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda or SCALA, criticized the public school system in a speech to the Rotary Club of Louisville Thursday afternoon. A product of public education himself, Jones said schools today are failing to adequately teach some students to read, among other basic skills.
In the speech, Jones hit back at critics who called the group “secretive” and “nefarious.”
“You can see that we hit the ground running. That apparently proved to be unsettling to some who may be unfamiliar with results-oriented entities,” Jones quipped, to laughter and applause from Rotarians.
But in the speech and in answering reporters’ questions after, Jones provided little detail about how to improve the school system.
When a Rotarian asked how the group could help SCALA, Jones directed her to call Gov. Matt Bevin and “tell him we want to fix the schools.”
Jones said he thinks it will take a “cataclysmic event” to lead to change, though he said he did not know what such an event would be.
“I think to fix the schools, it’s going to take a takeover,” Jones said in response to another Rotarian’s questions.
Throughout his comments, he cited issues such as what he sees as state laws that require the school board to micromanage even the district’s smallest decisions. He also pointed to what he deemed improper resource allocation and a lack of superintendent and school board authority.
Asked further about a potential state takeover of JCPS, Jones told reporters he is not an expert in fixing schools, and again suggested calling the governor.
“I’m not a fixer of it, I’m a person that’s carrying the message that it needs to be fixed,” he said.
He also declined to further define the role of SCALA in making the changes for which he is calling.
For example, SCALA members have in the past donated significantly to politicians across the state. But Jones did not say whether the group as a whole would be willing to fill funding shortfalls for local issues such as public safety.
“Well, since we don’t charge any dues, we don’t have any money,” he said. Individual members may choose to support various initiatives, he said.
SCALA’s dealings first came to light in an Insider Louisville article earlier this year, which revealed that the steering committee formed last summer and took inspiration from a similar group in Nashville. Its 70 or so members include Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.
Membership to SCALA is open to those who have achieved a position of CEO or similar, Jones said Thursday. He said the group extended an invitation to new JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio, but that it had not heard back yet.
The next SCALA meeting is 4 p.m. on March 20 at Bellarmine University. Committee members will present a report on public safety, Jones said.