Education

Pastors group urges state takeover of Jefferson schools

Students from Central High School in Louisville watched a demonstration on Aug. 30, 2017, calling for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.
Students from Central High School in Louisville watched a demonstration on Aug. 30, 2017, calling for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

With just days remaining until Jefferson County Public Schools learns the results of a sweeping, 14-month management audit, a group of local faith leaders is calling for a state takeover of the district.

The group, known as the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition, made the call on Tuesday morning during a press conference held in conjunction with the Bluegrass Institute in front of JCPS headquarters.

Jerry L. Stephenson, senior pastor of the Midwest Church of Christ, said the district has failed to adequately educate students of color and from low-income households.

The group includes Milton Seymore, the new chairman of the state school board. He did not return Courier Journal phone calls seeking comment before the announcement.

"We're here to put the interest of our children at the forefront," said Michael Ford, chairman of the pastors group. "... Let the union take care of the teachers, but let the teachers be free to teach."

The district — among the 30 largest in the nation — has been under a top-to-bottom state audit since February 2017. One of the possible outcomes of the audit could be a takeover, forcing Superintendent Marty Pollio and the elected school board to cede all decision-making power to the state.

The decision of whether to recommend a takeover is in the hands of interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, who was appointed to the position last week after the former head of Kentucky's public schools, Stephen Pruitt, resigned under pressure from a newly reconstituted state education board.

The group of faith leaders has been critical of JCPS in the past, calling in recent years for the passage of a controversial charter school law and supporting other school-choice initiatives, including a scholarship tax credit program and publicly funded vouchers for preschool.

Mandy McLaren reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.
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