LOUISVILLE, Ky. — More than two years after dodging a state takeover, Kentucky’s largest school district is no longer under state assistance.
Jefferson County Public Schools remedied dozens of issues found in a 2018 audit and is now clear to operate on its own, state education officials announced Tuesday.
In a Nov. 20 letter, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass told JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and the Jefferson County Board of Education the audit determined “neither state management nor state assistance is necessary to correct any inefficiencies and ineffectiveness within the district,” according to a KDE news release.
Glass recommended the district should “review the recommendations of the audit in detail and incorporate the recommendations into weekly cabinet meetings and the JCPS District Improvement Plan.”
“Based upon the findings outlined in the Management Audit Report, I have determined that there is not a pattern of a significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the governance and administration of JCPS,” Glasssaid in Tuesday’s release. “I commend Dr. Pollio, his team and the Jefferson County Board of Education for their dedication to the implementation of the corrective action plan and their dedication to building sustainable systems that will provide stability to the district and allow the district to move forward.”
It’s an announcement more than two years in the making. A state audit published in spring 2018 dinged JCPS for scores of issues, prompting then-interim-Commissioner Wayne Lewis to push for a state takeover of the district.
JCPS challenged the recommendation, which was avoided after a weekslong settlement negotiation.
Instead of being managed by the state, JCPS worked in tandem with state officials on a corrective action plan.
Pollio shared the district’s progress at each state education board meeting. In the August 2020 meeting, he said the district had completed the plan.
As part of the settlement agreement, JCPS underwent a second audit this fall — which could have resulted in another takeover attempt.
Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 9, the KDE management audit team virtually conducted 1,588 interviews with various JCPS officials and leaders, including members of the school board, members of school-based decision making councils, district and school administrators and certified and classified staff, according to the release.
The team reviewed district data, documents and the corrective action plan throughout the process.
Glass said the settlement agreement should be considered “fulfilled” and JCPS released from further implementation of formal corrective action under the agreement, according to Tuesday’s announcement.
JCPS should continue to work with the KDE Office of Special Education and Early Learning “to ensure the district meets expectations under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)” and implements any corrective action plan for special education services that is outside the scope of the settlement agreement, Glass said.
The Courier Journal has previously reported on issues involving the district’s use of restraints and seclusion for students and the district’s past failures to report those incidents.
During the 2018-19 school year, JCPS employees restrained students 4,761 times, a figure that had risen consistently over the previous five years.
A Courier Journal analysis of the 2018-19 data found some kids were held down by staff more than 50 times. For one fifth-grader, that number reached 222 — more restraints than there were days in the school year.
Pollio spoke with reporters about the decision Tuesday afternoon and acknowledged JCPS still has “items that are significant that we have to correct.”
But he said the district has since completed all but 27 of its 276 corrective action items.
Most of the yet-to-be fixed issues are “isolated” and not “widespread and systemic like it was three years ago,” Pollio added.
“It’s a new day in JCPS,” Pollio said. “It is, and we promised change, and I believe we’ve delivered on that change. … I think we’re on track, but we still have a lot of work to do, and we will be focusing on that work even more intensely and pushing harder to ensure that special education is where we need to be in the years to come. And I believe we will be successful.”
Pollio noted the audit credited JCPS for its career and technical education (CTE) programs, which he said have been incorporated into alternative schools as “a new and national model.”
English learners in JCPS are outperforming their peers in the state on CTE assessments, and graduation and student attendance rates have also improved, according to the audit.
In finance, Pollio said “the internal controls we put in place were effective,” and the audit also highlighted the district’s professional development opportunities as a positive.
Pollio also mentioned how the district’s “Future State” plan and $54 million in new revenue from a 7-cent property tax increase (which is still facing a legal challenge in court) is a response to the audit faulting JCPS for previous missed opportunities to raise more funds.
The Kentucky Board of Education will review the management audit at its Dec. 2 meeting.
KBE Chair Lu Young said the board “appreciates the genuine effort and commitment by Dr. Pollio, his team and the Jefferson County Board of Education over the course of the corrective action plan.”
“We recognize that JCPS has come a long way from where they began and urge them to remain vigilant on behalf of the children and families they serve,” Young said. “We all recognize that this work is not over and that JCPS will continue on its journey to significant improvement — the work is too important for anything less.”
KBE Vice Chair Sharon Porter Robinson, who represents Jefferson County, said “it’s time for everyone in the Jefferson County community to engage, partner and support the district.”
“It is our obligation as citizens to hold high expectations to ensure that every child in JCPS, especially our students of color, low-income students and those who have special needs, have the opportunity to receive a high quality education in a safe and nurturing school environment,” Robinson said. “I am certainly looking forward to continued improvement in the years to come.”
JCPS board chair Diane Porter expressed gratitude “for the support of the community during this time.”
“We acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of those in JCPS to make better systems that focus on what’s in the best interest of students,” Porter said.
JCPS board member James Craig tweeted that it is a “good day” for the district “and the future is bright.”
“I’m proud to be a part of this team,” Craig tweeted.
This story will be updated.
Reach Billy Kobin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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