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A Kentucky task force exploring breaking up JCPS is taking applications from community

Jackson Winburn arranges puzzle pieces on his first day back.
Amber Sigman
Jackson Winburn arranges puzzle pieces on his first day back in school.

In an unusual move, a controversial task force that will make recommendations on the future of JCPS — including whether it should be broken up — is accepting applications from community members interested in joining.

Kentucky lawmakers are allowing Jefferson County Public Schools community members to join a task force created to study one of the most controversial topics of the year: breaking up the state’s largest school district.

The members of the freshly minted Efficient and Effective School District Governance Task Force haven’t been decided yet. In a somewhat unusual move, the task force will include community members, not just lawmakers. And even more unusual, Louisville Republican Rep. Ken Fleming, who sponsored the legislation that created the group, said people should apply for the openings.

“This might be a little bit unusual, but the important thing is that we want to try to get people involved that have a good interest, a good background in education, and make sure we're focused on our kids,” said Fleming, who is one of the lawmakers appointed to the task force.

Fleming said he is not aware of any other committees or task forces that have held similar application processes for community members.

Fleming’s concurrent resolution specified the task force should include two parents of former Jefferson County Public School students who have “knowledge in the field of education.” It also calls for a representative of a “large business” that operates in Kentucky, a current JCPS teacher and one principal nomination by JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio.

All of those are on top of the lawmakers directly appointed by party leadership — four Republicans and two Democrats. The state Auditor Allison Ball and Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg can also join the task force or send a designee.

Those are the 13 people who will have a hand in deciding JCPS’s fate. Fleming said those interested in joining the group should send a resume to EESDGApplications@lrc.ky.gov and include a resume and letter of intent.

“We realize and hear quite often that something needs to change, whatever it might be,” Fleming said. “We can collectively get together and come to some conclusion in terms of moving the ball forward to help our children and making sure the students are in a better spot.”

Alongside Fleming, House majority leadership also put up Rep. Kim Banta, a Republican from Ft. Mitchell to co-chair the committee. From the other chamber, Republican Sen. Mike Nemes from Shepherdsville and Sen. Lindsey Tichenor from Oldham will also be on the taskforce. Democrats put forward Louisville lawmakers Rep. Tina Bojanowski and Sen. Gerald Neal.

Democrats were staunchly opposed to the task force. Some say it is part of the so-called “war on Louisville.” They have frequently argued that the results of the taskforce are essentially predetermined, as many Republicans have already said they want to break up the district.

Neal said in an interview before he was officially assigned to the taskforce that he is concerned with what the legislature will do with the committee’s results — a group of people who largely do not represent the county. The group is tasked with creating a report with recommendations for the school district ahead of next year’s legislative session.

“It goes back to an entire General Assembly — people who have nothing to do with Louisville and Jefferson County, know nothing about what's on the ground in Jefferson County,” Neal said. “Now, it depends on those few people who are operating who have all that leverage to enforce their vision of what has to happen in Jefferson County.”

Before the resolution officially passed both chambers, Neal tried to amend the membership to be more heavily weighted towards Democrats, saying decisions about JCPS should better reflect the political makeup of the county. The attempt failed.

Registered voters in Jefferson County are 56% Democrats compared to just 32% Republicans. There are twice as many Republicans on the board as Democrats.

JCPS has become a frequent target of Republican leaders, and the district’s recent transportation crisis did nothing to allay those critiques. Many Republicans have also made clear they want to break up the district, even as they discussed a task force that is supposed to study a number of different possibilities.

“I want to be clear, and on the record: I would vote today to break it up. I would vote today to break it up into multiple school districts,” Republican Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer said as he voted in favor of the taskforce. “ But I defer to my friends in the Jefferson County delegation who suggest we have this task force first.”

Fleming said the taskforce will explore all options and could come to any number of conclusions. According to his resolution, it is supposed to review the impact of and efficiency of the JCPS Board of Education, the benefits of creating new districts and explore the options for reorganizing the district.

The application will remain open until the end of the month. The first meeting is scheduled for July 15 at 1 p.m., and subsequent meetings take place on the third Monday of the month in Frankfort. There will also be a meeting July 29.

Here are more details on how to apply for community member position:

Lawmakers said to include the following in the email by end of day June 30:

  • A letter of intent with contact information, the position, an “explanation of how the applicant meets the requirements for the position,” and three references
  • A resume

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.