waynelewis Kentucky Department of Education
Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis

Kentucky education official recommends state takeover of Jefferson County school system

Interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis cites several deficiencies in calling for the state to assume control of the state's largest public school district.

Kentucky's interim education commissioner wants the state to take over management of the 101,000-student Jefferson County school system.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis made the recommendation in a 16-page letter that was released with the results of an extensive management audit of the state's largest school system, which includes Louisville.

The "evidence overwhelmingly supports" a takeover, Lewis concluded.

He cited a flawed system to investigate and account for physical restraints of students, poor achievement test scores and a student assignment plan that "has a distinct, negative impact on the most vulnerable populations of...students."

The recommendation must be approved by a majority vote of the state education board. All 11 members of the board have been appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, who last year called the district an "unmitigated disaster."

If the state assumes control, the Jefferson County district would lose control of its finances, personnel, operations and other responsibilities ordinarily handled by Superintendent Marty Pollio and the elected school board.

Under state law, those powers would normally be transferred to a state-appointed manager. However, Lewis says in his recommendation, he will "delegate authority for the daily operation of the district" to Pollio.

Lewis says he has "no intention of removing elected members" of the Jefferson County school board. Instead, he asked that the board "continue to meet and function in an advisory capacity to Dr. Pollio and to me." Several board members have vowed to fight a takeover in court.

The state's recommendation culminates an exhaustive audit announced last year under former Superintendent Donna Hargens.

At that time, Stephen Pruitt, who was the education commissioner, said an initial review into the district's management had uncovered more than 20 "significant deficiencies," including the widespread underreporting of student seclusion and restraint, racial disparities in suspension rates, and inadequate support for the district's lowest-performing schools.

Two months later, Hargens announced her resignation. Pollio became acting superintendent in July and was given the job permanently in February.

When the audit was announced, Pruitt said he expected it to be complete by the end of the 2016-17 school year.

But it dragged on for more than a year, and Pruitt resigned last month under pressure from a newly reconstituted state education board.

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