KDE Interim Commissioner Wayne Lewis offers few details about impending JCPS takeover

06/28/2018 02:26 PM

FRANKFORT – One Kentucky lawmaker expressed concern at Thursday’s Budget Review Subcommittee on Education that Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis did not present a cost analysis for the departments impending takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district with over 100,000 students.

Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, expressed concerns to Lewis, who was named interim commissioner in April after the resignation of Stephen Pruitt, about how KDE, which saw their budget slashed $54 million in the 2018/2020 biennium budget, will absorb the costs to take over JCPS.

Rand grew frustrated when Lewis told him that he couldn’t answer the question of cost.

“The regulation around state management and the process for a district to get to state management actually says at this point, the only conversation that we are to be having is to whether or not Jefferson County should, in fact, be state managed,” Lewis said. “It would be after the state board of education makes a determination as to whether the district becomes that, that we would develop that plan in collaboration with the district. You need that implementation plan in order to give any cost estimate.”

After the meeting, Lewis said that he understood why Rand would ask the question, but he was powerless to answer it.

“Absent having the law, I could see how folks would legitimately have questions and say you want to go into Jefferson County Public Schools and declare it a state managed district, what is it you intend to do once you get,” Lewis said. “I think that would be a fair question. As a state education agency, we have to follow the law.”

Some critics say that financially the state board state is no condition to take over JCPS, but Lewis says that the state must act for the benefit of the kids.

“When you look at the severity of the findings in that audit, while student achievement is a part of what I’m concerned about in Jefferson County Public Schools, student achievement is not what led to the management review, student achievement is not what led to the management audit, and student achievement alone is not what led to my recommendation,” Lewis said. “We’re talking about the safety of children.”

Statewide, Kentucky’s high school graduation rate is at 90 percent, however Lewis expressed concern that one in three who receive diplomas are not ready either for postsecondary education or a career.

Something that he says needs to change.

“We are going to close that gap,” Lewis said. “When we issue a high school diploma in Kentucky, whether it’s in Pikeville, whether it’s in Fulton County, we are going to insure that basic skills are there for that kid.”

A topic on the agenda which was not discussed was the budget impact of charter schools.

Lewis said the reason it was not talked about is the fact that currently, there are no charter schools in the state of Kentucky.

“We’ll use personnel within the department to field questions and provide any support that’s needed across the district, but as of yet, we don’t have charter schools in Kentucky and so any conversation about costs, I mean, there’s really not much to say.”


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