Should Louisville abolish its school board? [The Arena]

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Kentucky Senate President and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams created a little brouhaha last Tuesday, when he proposed 86ing the Jefferson County School Board.  Speaking to a Chamber of Commerce group in Louisville, Williams said, “I submit it might be time to dissolve the Jefferson County school board.”

Senator Williams indicated that he will propose legislation during the 2012 General Assembly to eliminate the Jefferson County Board of Education and allow Louisville’s mayor to appoint the school superintendent, subject to approval by the Metro Council.  Noting that some of Louisville’s schools are the lowest-performing schools in the state, Williams remarked, “The most devastating thing that's going happen to economic development in Kentucky is for the Jefferson County public school system to have 60 percent of the worst schools in the state.”

Of course, the usual suspects reacted to Williams’ suggestion as might be expected.  Jefferson County School Board Chairman Steve Imhoff indicated to Courier-Journal reporter Joseph Gerth that he was none too keen on the idea of accepting any criticism from Sen. Williams:   “I think that a state legislator not in Jefferson County should talk with legislators from Jefferson County before he makes statements that are wild, irrational, with lack of judgment.”

The governor, most Democratic politicians, the head of the teachers’ union, and, of course, the editorial board of the Courier-Journal newspaper, all reacted in horror at the suggestion that Louisville’s mayor and Metro Council could do a better job than our current school board.  The specter of the likes of Judy Green calling the shots for our school children certainly sends shivers up the spine of any loving parent.

But, upon sober reflection, one cannot really determine that there is a legislative body anywhere this side of the Kandahar City Council that could do a worse job of running Louisville’s public schools than the current bunch of inmates who are running the asylum. 

Despite the constant bragging by the public relations flacks at the Jefferson County Public Schools headquarters, and the hagiographic extolling of each of our failed Superintendents by the local newspaper, it has become painfully obvious that our public schools here in Louisville are on a downhill slide.  In a report issued last September, only 27 of Jefferson County’s 131 public schools met the federally mandated No Child Left Behind goals.

The response from JCPS officials was, basically, “the goals were set too high.” Bob Rodosky, executive director of accountability, research and planning for JCPS had this to say back in September: “I think there is a whole bunch of data missing in this report, and I'm checking with the state to see what happened.”  That was ten months ago, and good old Bob has yet to get back to us on that “missing data.”

How can one defend an educational system that graduates kids from high school in Metro Louisville, with only 31 percent of the district's 5,433 graduates last year college or career ready?  An annual flood of 18 year-olds incapable of profiting from higher education, and with no marketable job skills. What’s wrong with this picture?

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At Shawnee, Valley and Western high schools, only 4 percent of students were deemed ready for college or a career. And what was “accountability czar” Bob Rodosky’s response to this horror? “The bottom line is that this is baseline data. This shows us where we are at now and where we need to go. We just need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Yeah. The report shows us where Bob and the boys out at the Vanhoose Education Center need to go, but they won’t need to roll up their sleeves; they should be updating their résumés.

Then again, there’s that pesky little problem with criminal behavior in Louisville’s public schools.  In January of last year, a report was released from Eastern Kentucky University, containing a statistical analysis of the behavior and discipline of our public school students over the previous year.  The good news seems to be that the overall crime rate among school kids is down.  The bad news is that Jefferson County (Louisville Metro) public schools continue to be the most crime-ridden in the state.   And the Kentucky Center for School Safety, in cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Education, issued its tenth annual Safe Schools Data Project report, for the 2008-2009 school year.  The report shows an increase in reported violations of both school rules and criminal law in Louisville schools, despite an overall decrease in such behaviors statewide.  

Maybe—just maybe—Senator Williams’ idea deserves some dispassionate discussion and rational evaluation.  If the “education professionals” running Louisville’s public schools have done such a colossally poor job, perhaps it’s time to let some amateurs take a whack at it.  After all, the Ark was built by amateurs.  The Titanic was built by professionals.

About Thomas McAdam
At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.
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