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JCPS Board Approves Tax Increase, But Doesn’t Create Additional Revenue

The Jefferson County School Board unanimously approved a tax increase of one-tenth of a cent at Monday’s board meeting.

The increase is based on assessed property value. If a house is assessed at $100,000 dollars, it will mean a $1 increase in taxes this next year.

This will be the fourth straight year the school board has raised property tax to maintain an acceptable level of service. This year’s increase is the smallest over the previous years’ raises. Last year’s tax increase of three cents was the district’s largest over the past four years and it brought around $28 million dollars to the district.

Each year, the school board has the option to apply a four percent tax revenue increase. Superintendent Donna Hargens says the board chose not to seek the maximum increase after an audit of the district’s finances showed it can maintain its current level of service with the minimum increase.

Hargens also says the increase will not bring JCPS any additional revenue. Further, she says the district will lose $16 million dollars by not implementing the maximum tax.

That still did not please everyone. Three people spoke out against the tax increase, including a member of the local Tea Party.

But board members were not swayed and they explained why the tax increase was necessary. Board member Debbie Wesslund says it’s the boards job to make sure the money is spent right.

School Year/Tax Increase (per $100,000 of assessed property value)

2011-2012: 67.7  ($677 per year)

2010-2011: 67.6

2009-2010: 64.6

2008-2009: 62.5

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JCPS Buses Students Home Safely

All JCPS students have been safely delivered home.

The last student was cleared at 7:13 pm on Wednesday night, according to the Courier-Journal. WDRB reports that fewer than 20 children had not yet been dropped off as of 7:20.

Despite school being postponed for two consecutive days due to power and communication outages from Saturday’s storm, transportation on the first day ended more successfully than last year, when some students in extreme circumstances weren’t home until after 9 pm.

On Wednesday morning there were no reported severe transportation delays despite the ongoing cleanup of county streets from storm damage. Superintendent Donna Hargens said JCPS was prepared to reroute buses and keep in communication with parents should something occur. This year, parents could also access a bus hotline and refer to an online bus finder through JCPS.

On Wednesday afternoon, JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey said he wasn’t aware of any complications with the morning commute and he couldn’t confirm any delays. There were no reports any extraordinary circumstances regarding transportation.

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Classes Begin, JCPS Students Eager to Start

JCPS School buses are on the roads this morning. Greeting some students at Waggener High School Wednesday morning was Superintendent Donna Hargens. All JCPS schools and bus compounds are all fully operational and the district is prepared if communication methods should fail, she said.

“And anything that happens during the day we’ve done workaround plans to being in mobile cards and if anything should happen, and also reroute the numbers to another line that does work so we’ve got contingency plans in place in case something unexpected does happen in one of those areas,” said Hargens.

If parents are concerned about their child’s transportation they may contact the JCPS bus hotline at 485-RIDE (7433). They can also refer to the JCPS online bus finder. Hargens also asked parents to be more patient because storm damage may still affect some bus routes.

“Well and I think the parents, because everybody’s been out there, I know I’ve gone past areas where trees have been down, are understanding that if it takes a little bit longer we’re going to have to reroute or whatever. But they’re going to be able to communicate with us if they have any questions or concerns about how long it’s taking,” she said.

Hargens will observe the dismissal of Brandeis Elementary this afternoon.

Students at Waggener High School seemed eager to begin the school year, which has been delayed two days due to Saturday’s storm damage. WFPL asked four students what they were looking forward to most.

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JCPS Begins Year With New Expectations, Standards

In a short years-time the Jefferson County school district has seen numerous changes that will affect this school year. Some are simple, like changes to the lunch menu. Others are major and will be new to students, teachers and administrators, and will affect the county, state and nation.

One of the most notable changes is the new Superintendent, Donna Hargens. Hargens was hired in July amid changing standards and high expectations. Last week, she released a 90-Day Plan that she said will help keep her and the school board on track.

Hargens’s plan focuses on themes and goals that respond to how she expects to handle a school district that still faces unanswered questions and controversial issues.

“What we did is we took the board’s transition plan and then combined it with the things that I was going to be working on and the cabinet would be working on,” said Hargens. “I think it’s really important that we all work together off of a common plan.”

Anyone can follow the goals online, which are both broad and specific, and documents will be uploaded to the web as initiatives are met. This answers some questions regarding how Hargens plans to be more transparent and the 90-Day Plan will help hold her and the board accountable for meeting their marks.

As part of the plan, Hargens will spend time throughout the county with schools, principals and community groups. She has reached out to the NAACP, which was against the hiring of both superintendent finalists in July.

President of the Louisville NAACP Raoul Cunningham said Hargens seems more compatible with the school board than former Superintendent Sheldon Berman. The district will have to wait to see if that’s a good thing, said Cunningham. But there are still key issues, like the new JCPS student assignment plan, that await a response, he said. JCPS elementary schools implemented the new plan last year, middle schools will do so this year and high schools will follow next year. But Cunningham said it’s taking too long.

“I don’t think we’ve been able, the school board’s been able to focus the necessary attention to achievement gaps and other educational issues,” he said.

The NAACP plans on meeting with Hargens in late August, said Cunningham.

Hargens dealt with student assignment in her previous job with the Wake County Public School system. According to her new plan, discussions with the board regarding assessment of student assignment are expected to begin within the next 30 days, pending recommendations for Dr. Gary Orfield.

Hargens said the plan also includes educating the board on the Common Core State Standards, which begin this year. This is also scheduled within the 30 days.

“And what’s referenced in there is how prepared are we to deliver the common core and do we have the support systems in place to make sure that our schools and our students are successful,” said Hargens. “And in that was referenced that the board would get training from the school board association regarding their role in the common core. And that’s in the plan and it’s already scheduled.”

Other goals in the 90-Day Plan will be ongoing, like establishing relationships with stakeholders, schools and state policy makers. Once the 90 days are up, Hargens said the board should be able to create a strategic goal for student achievement.

Brent McKim is president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. He’s concerned that enough important decisions about education aren’t being made in the right areas.

“More and more decisions are begin made further and further from classrooms, further and further from the students and their parents and their classrooms where the learning takes place,” said McKim.

If Hargens and the school board want to create a strong plan, it will be important to communicate with teachers, students and parents, said McKim.

Hargens’s 90-Day Plan includes this.

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JCPS Officials Say They’re Ready For Classes Wednesday

Officials at Jefferson County Public Schools say power, Internet and phone service have been restored at all schools and facilities and they’re ready to start the new academic year tomorrow.

The start of school was delayed by two days due to power and other outages caused by Saturday’s severe weather.

JCPS Director of Facilities and Transportation Mike Mulheirn says electricity was restored Tuesday to all the dozens of schools knocked offline, but many were still without phone and Internet service.

“On the first day of school we anticipate maybe 7,200 calls. We get 2,000 here (at the JCPS service center). And we have each of the 13 bus compounds, we anticipate 400 calls on the first day of school there. So phones are critical,” he said.

Mulheirn says it will be up to the board of education to decide exactly when the two missed instructional days will be made up.

More back-to-school information can be found here.

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UPDATED: JCPS Canceled for Tuesday

The first day of classes for Jefferson County Public Schools has again been postponed due to power outages and other damage caused by Saturday’s severe storms.

“We are anxious to have the first day of school. It is frustrating and it’s disappointing but, again, the safety of our students and the ability to communicate with our parents has to trump all that frustration,” said Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Hargens cited communication issues and “ongoing traffic and debris issues,” as reasons for cancellation. When JCPS met at noon, they expected the situation to get better. Instead, it worsened.

“As of 4 pm this afternoon, JCPS had lost phone and internet service at 54 schools and 5 bus compounds as well as C.B. Young Service Center,” she said. This was an increase the the roughly 30 schools without service earlier in the day.

As repairs were being made to the districts main phone trunk and fiber optic lines, located at Tartan Way and Newburg Road and Newburg Road and Trevilion Way, additional problems occurred, said Hargens.

JCPS approximates that currently 400 students could not be reached at their assigned stops. Hargens also cited downed power lines as a safety issues to students.

“You have lights out. You have streets that are unaccessible,” said Chip Keeling with LG&E, which supported JCPS’s decision. “None of us want to have the 90,000 kids that would be going to school tomorrow come upon a line that happens to be energized.”

Hargens said if it was a smaller number of schools, JCPS would have likely begun classes. Hargens said other communication methods like cell phones might have been an option.

Hargens said the JCPS board would look at its options and discuss whether it would add the two days of missed school.

JCPS officials have not made a decision about school on Wednesday.

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New Busing Resources Available for JCPS Parents

Jefferson County Public School parents and guardians will have some new tools entering the school year.

JCPS established communication with parents about busing before the school year began. This was in response to last year’s infamous first day, when some students traveled for hours on the bus to get home.

Parents can now call a JCPS hotline (495-RIDE or 7433) to their get questions answered regarding what bus their child should take. Since the hotline began on Aug. 11, it already helped hundreds of parents find their child’s bus, said JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey in an email.

They can also find the best bus route through an online bus finder. JCPS says it merged its system with Louisville/Jefferson County Information Consortium (LOJIC) and has a one-year contract for $10,000.

Students will also be given name tags, similar to last year. The color coded name tags identify students’ bus routes and age.

Superintendent Donna Hargens is expected to observe the dismissal of Brandeis Elementary on Tuesday.

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Schools Close as Power Restoration Continues

The first day of classes at Jefferson County Public Schools has been postponed due to power outages.

Saturday’s storm knocked out power to about 30 schools and dozens of traffic lights, making teaching and transportation difficult.

“With the uncertainty, the best thing to do is what’s certain,” says Superintendent Donna Hargens. “Our top priority is to make students safe so they can learn and we will make up the day.”

No decision has been made on classes for Tuesday, but schools do have priority for power restoration, behind hospitals and police and fire stations.

“During the ice storm and the wind storm we had 80 schools down, to give you an idea of the complexity of this. We’re not as bad as we were in those instances,” says director of facilities Mike Mulheirn.

As of 2:00, 59,000 LG&E customers in Jefferson County were without power. In southern Indiana, 12,000 Duke Energy customers were without power.

LG&E/KU Outage Map
Duke Outage information

Utility crews have been called in from other states and LG&E is still assessing the extent of the damage.

“We are gonna hit it hard, fast and aggressively. That’s why we’re pulling every resource we can from that wide array of states. We’re on it. We’ve got all the mutual aid communications open and we’re getting what we’re asking for,” says LG&E Senior Vice President Chris Hermann.

Hermann says it’s too early to give a more precise estimate, but power could be restored to most customers by the middle of the week.

An LG&E spokesman says the company will try to recoup the cost of recovery through a rate increase. LG&E is currently seeking a rate increase to cover the cost of bringing power plants into compliance with federal regulations.

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New JCPS Superintendent Outlines 90-Day Plan

Jefferson County Public School Superintendent Donna Hargens announced a 90-day plan at her first school board meeting on Monday.

The plan outlines her strategic priorities and includes performance checks and both short and long-term goals.

The plan helps regulate the district’s progress as it attempts to improve student performance and communication with the community, said Hargens. The plan can be followed online, with results documented as goals are met.

“And we will update it regularly and you will be able to see if these are complete, or in progress, or still to be started,” Hargens said. “And we intend to do reports to the board, because I think it’s really important that we start to work and start to work together and show the community what we’re accomplishing.”

The agenda combines the transition plan prepared for Hargens by the school board and the work that Hargens will already be expected to accomplish.

Click here to see a copy of the plan.

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Local PTA Receives Grant to Educate Parents on New Standards

Jefferson County’s 15th District PTA is one of six national recipients of a grant to educate parents and community members about the Common Core State Standards, which go into effect this year.

All but six states have adopted the new standards, which aim to unify what students are expected to learn regardless of where they live.

“If they are teaching about rhyming in kindergarten in Kentucky, they are teaching about rhyming in kindergarten in another state,” said Myrdin Thompson who is a 15th District PTA parent.

Thompson will lead the Jefferson County project funded by a grant of up to $12,000 from the National PTA. The amount will be determined in September when they train, said Thompson.

Now, 15th District PTA members will become the educators for parents and community members in Jefferson County.

“We’re hoping that through these workshops and through connecting through their school environment and creating a stronger relationship they will feel more confident to ask key questions for those parent teacher conferences,” Thompson said.

The group has already started workshops in the county and Lowe, St. Mathews and Middletown elementary schools have scheduled workshops in September, she said.

“So our goal is to reach as many of the parents of the 100,000 students in this community as we can so that they can better partner with the school itself,” she said.

More information will be presented to parents and community members at the annual Back to School Back to PTA event on Aug. 23.