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Court Rules Against JCPS, Students Allowed to Attend School Nearest Home

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has ruled that students have the right to enroll and attend the school nearest their home.

The suit was filed on behalf of 13 JCPS parents who say the district misinterprets the word enroll. In the opinion released, two judges agree and one dissents.

Judges Kelly Thompson and Michael Caperton say not allowing students to attend the same school which they enroll “defies logic.”

But Judge Sara Walter Combs says in 1990, the state specifically removed the word attendance from legislation. She says when amendments are made the changes are specific.

“It was significantly deleted to say that enroll and to attend were no longer conjoined. To enroll was left, for attendance was deleted. And we have rules of statutory construction that essentially say the general assembly doesn’t do anything by accident,” said Combs.

JCPS will not need to change its current system this school year. But the opinion writes next year, the district will have to comply with state law as interpreted by the Court of Appeals. JCPS Attorney Byron Leet says he’ll discuss option with JCPS. But it’s likely the district will ask the State Supreme Court to hear the case.

“If the school district takes certain steps to review this further that would have an effect on the court of appeals’ decision regarding the effectiveness of this opinion.”

Combs says if JCPS takes the case further, it will delay having to comply with the Court of Appeals decision indefinitely.

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JCPS Hears Early Analysis of Proposed Student Assignment Plan

The Jefferson County Public Schools’ board is concerned it may be too early to discuss consultant and UCLA professor Dr. Gary Orfield’s student assignment plan recommendations with the public.

JCPS board members saw early research on Orfield’s recommendations Monday night. Board members were briefed by JCPS staff members working on various issues of the plan. The district is preparing to seek opinions from staff, principals and the public this week. But some board members said it may be premature to have discussions about student assignment, just two weeks after Orfield submitted his recommendations.

Board Chair Steve Imhoff said he was on the fence about going public this early.

“But I came back around. It’s good to hear what their (parents) comments are on the general concept. We’re looking at the general concept, we want to hear what parents think about the concept,” Imhoff said.

And despite concerns, the board decided the benefits outweighed the costs. Discussions touched upon how involved the public should be this early in the process. Some board members expressed concern that it would be difficult to convey any proposed ideas without confusing the public. But ultimately, having public discussions early in the process will allow parents to learn about the options and ask questions, even though the answers may change during the process, said Imhoff.

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JCPS Board Hears Student Assignment Recommendations

The UCLA professor and contracted expert on student assignment said it’s possible for Jefferson County Public Schools to create diverse schools with less transportation by next fall.

“Well I think the longest ride times would be less than half the longest ride times now. That’s my guess,” Dr. Gary Orfield told the JCPS school board.

Orfield was contracted last year by JCPS to give recommendations on its student assignment plan. His job was to address concerns regarding the plan and to consider more recent data in the district. The long-awaited recommendations include improving technology while cutting transportation times and encouraging city government help, according to the report released at Monday’s school board meeting. The plan could be implemented as soon as next school year and some neighborhoods could even be considered for exemption from student assignment in 2013, said Orfield.

The plan would begin by removing the district’s six A-B clusters defined by race, income and education levels and it would create 13 more organized and equally diverse clusters based on similar information, but according to recent census data.

Although around 40 percent of JCPS schools are not in compliance with the current student assignment plan, the new plan showcases the district’s current diversity according to more recent data, said Orfield.

“The county, when we looked at it, wasn’t a layer cake. It was a marble cake, with lots of different kinds of neighborhoods, especially in the middle of the county that are close to each other but that are different that could easily be part of relatively small clusters, that would integrate everybody at very short transportation times,” he said.

Orfield’s plan recommends consideration of removing certain neighborhoods that are stably integrated from having to comply with student assignment, which could begin in fall 2013. Rewarding schools for being stably integrated was around in earlier JCPS policies, said Orfield.

The plan leaves out middle and high schools but says kindergarten should be considered for inclusion. Orfield’s plan goes further to recommend the district ask housing agencies and Metro Government for help in creating stably diverse neighborhoods.

Other items in the plan include yearly reports and enhanced technological communications between JCPS and parents.

There will be four public meetings regarding the report beginning in October, said JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens. That should be plenty of time to implement the plan by next school year if it chooses, said Orfield.

Hargens will have to introduce any plan as a recommendation to the school board for the plan to be considered, said JCPS officials.

The report was co-authored by Dr. Erika Frankenberg.

Click here to see a copy of the report.

Click here to watch Orfield’s presentation of the report.

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JCPS Board Expected to Hear Student Assignment Recommendations

The long-awaited California expert on student assignment is giving his recommendations to the Jefferson County School Board on Monday night, and neither the public nor the board knows what he might say.

Dr. Gary Orfield is a professor at UCLA and was previously contracted by JCPS before to give recommendations on student assignment. Student assignment has been a controversial topic in Jefferson County for years and Superintendent Donna Hargens has remained quiet on the issue since taking her position this year. She now waits, with the rest of the district, for Orfield’s recommendations.

“His recommendations will be received,” said Steve Imhoff, chair of the Jefferson County School Board. “We’re not voting on anything. We will then have meetings in the community, sessions in the community, get feedback from people in the community sometime in the next two or three weeks after that,” he said.

The board has delayed implementation of middle and high school assignment plans because of concerns about transportation and other issues. This visit is also weighted with JCPS’s recent appearance in the state’s Court of Appeals, where its student assignment plan was questioned.

Imhoff said JCPS cannot predict any timeframe for actions taken by the board regarding Orfield’s recommendations.

“What will drive the entire time frame is what he tells us on Monday. It may be if we make changes we can do them the following year it may that we won’t be able to because of any changes we may make but right now we don’t know what is even suggested,” he said.

It may still be a couple months until the board makes any decisions, said Imhoff. He expects JCPS to hear public comment on the recommendations in the weeks that follow, he said.

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NAACP Meets With Superintendent Hargens

Louisville’s NAACP branch met with Superintendent Donna Hargens on Tuesday as part of Hargens’s 90-Day Plan she introduced after being hired as the new JCPS Superintendent.

The meeting was a success and Hargens listened, said Raoul Cunningham, president of Louisville’s NAACP branch.

The NAACP was against the hiring of either superintendent candidate during the interview process this past summer. It has since said it will give Hargens a chance but it still has concerns regarding key issues regarding the district, like student assignment and busing.

JCPS was in the Kentucky Court of Appeals earlier this month regarding its student assignment plan, which was questioned by the panel of three judges. Judge Kelly Thompson said JCPS should consider reverting back to neighborhood schools.

The JCPS Board of Education will be hearing recommendations about its student assignment plan from expert Dr. Gary Orfield on Sept. 12.

Cunningham said Tuesday’s meeting brought nothing controversial and he expects Hargens to be available for future discussions if necessary.

Hargens’s 90-Day Plan focuses on five strategic priorities: student achievement, teamwork, engage the community, high quality employees, and fiscal and organizational accountability. As of Tuesday, around 16 percent of its initiatives within the five goals have been complete.

Click here to see a copy of the results.

Click here to see supplemental documents supporting the initiatives.

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JCPS Student Assignment Hears Arguments, Judges Not Impressed With District’s Plan

The Kentucky Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today over an interpretation of a state statute, which could affect the JCPS student assignment plan.

The debate was between the words enroll versus attend.

Since 2000, a state statute (KRS 159.070) has allowed districts to chose where students go to school by removing the word “attend” in legislative language, said Bryon Leet, a JCPS board attorney. Leet said  JCPS can enroll a student at one school and have them attend another, like in the case of the current student assignment plan. But that’s not the state law’s intent, said Bruce Miller, an appellant attorney.

“My belief was that when I enrolled in Vanderbilt University undergraduate school in 1962, I attended Vanderbilt. I didn’t enroll there to go to Peabody across the street,” said Miller.

But Leet argued the law’s language is specific and that the word enroll doesn’t mean that a student must attend that school. And, he said, state law allows districts to make decisions about student assignment as long as it meets three factors: education, health and welfare, he said.

But JCPS misinterpreted the statute, said Ted Gordon, an appellant attorney. Gordon said the words are used interchangeably and that it’s common sense to assume a student would attend the school where they enroll.

“And to make these neighborhood schools a depository for paperwork that’s not the intent of the statute in any way shape or form,” said Gordon.

In the current JCPS plan, students are assigned to certain schools depending on a diversity quota, based on income, education and race.

But a 2007 Supreme Court decision (Meredith v. The Jefferson County Board of Education)  said no single student could be assigned to a school by race. The district argued it uses all three factors to make its quota, said Leet.

“In the minds of many educated professionals in this subject and in the minds of this elected school board it furthers the education achievement of everyone in order to avoid racial isolation,” he said.

Regardless, the JCPS student assignment plan hasn’t improved the district and test scores have dropped, said Judge Kelly Thompson. He went on to say the district should consider reverting back to neighborhood schools and by relying on race in any form to meet its diversity quota ignores previous court decisions.

“These three justices were very, very strong to tell the school board that they have over litigated this matter and they were not accepting any semantic difference between enroll and attend and to return to neighborhood schools,” said Gordon who joked that a rebuttal wasn’t necessary at the end of Wednesday’s hearing.

A decision is expected in the next four to six weeks, said assistant JCPS board assistant attorney Lisa DeJaco. If the Kentucky Court of Appeals should rule against JCPS, the case could head to the State Supreme Court, she said. But it could be six months to a year before the State Supreme Court decides whether to accept the case.

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First Superintendent Candidate Answers Public Questions, Some Disappointed in Event

The first superintendent candidate for Jefferson County Public Schools answered questions from the public tonight at Male High School.

Dr. Christine Johns-Haines is currently superintendent of Utica Community Schools in Michigan but says she is excited about the resources available in Louisville.  The questions ranged from bullying and busing to student assignment plans and discipline issues, but Johns-Haines maintained her case-by-case approach towards most issues.

“Let me say this up front, I don’t believe in just adopting programs, there is no silver bullet to fix the problems of schools.”

Johns-Haines emphasized the need to review each issue in depth and make decisions later and refrained from offering many proposals regarding specific issues.

At the forum, Johns-Haines was asked about her budget cutting habits, which she said shouldn’t carry over into Louisville because the funding processes here are different from Utica’s funding. However, she says she is equipped to make hard decisions.

“The hard decisions are having to make those budgetary decisions while trying to protect the academic programs in our schools for our children” says Johns-Haines “so that we don’t get caught with the state trying to take over our schools because they’re not adequately meeting yearly goals or they’re not performing.”

But Jefferson County Teacher’s Association Board Member, Jennifer Alexander, says she was disappointed in the turnout for the event.

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JCPS Board Sets Public Meetings on Superintendent Search

Three public meetings have been scheduled in the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent search.

The school board and its search firm will take public comment on what qualities to look for in a superintendent on Monday at Gheens Academy and Tuesday at the VanHoose Education Center.

Outgoing Superintendent Sheldon Berman was often in the middle of disputes over the JCPS student assignment plan, and it’s likely opponents of the plan will attend the public meetings. Board Chairman Steve Imhoff previously told WFPL the new superintendent will have to support student assignment.

“I’m sure this superintendent will work with us maintaining a good student assignment plan,” he said. “I don’t have much concern about that, because I will not vote for a superintendent that does not believe in diversity and equity in our schools.”

The board voted last year not to renew Berman’s contract. Berman has since taken a job in Eugene, Oregon.

The board and the search firm will also meet separately with stakeholders and students in next week.

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Local News Politics

Experience With Under-Performing Schools, Commitment to Student Assignment Among Criteria for Next JCPS Superintendent

The search for a new superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools has reached another level.

The school board met with the McPherson and Jacobson search firm Monday and established a set of criteria for the next leader. The list includes a commitment to student assignment and experience with urban schools and underperforming schools.

“They really did have a lot of good qualities that they were looking for—a lot of things that are going to be specific to Jefferson County and it certainly is going to give us a clear direction of what we need to do in our recruiting efforts,” says firm owner Thomas Jacobson.

Jacobson says the position will be widely advertised.

“We’ll be posting this position at all colleges and universities across the United States that offer educational leadership degrees. It’ll go to websites on state school board and state administrators associations. It will be advertised on the American Association of School Administrators website, in Education Week and on our own website,” he says.

Jacobson expects to find a replacement for current Superintendent Sheldon Berman by July. Last year, the board voted not to renew Berman’s contract beyond the end of June.

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Local News Next Louisville Politics

Moxley Endorses Heiner At Education Press Conference

Republican candidate for mayor Hal Heiner Thursday discussed his plans for improving Jefferson County Public Schools, and announced his latest endorsement.

Heiner recently called for an end to the current student assignment plan in a television ad. The spot drew criticism from Democratic candidate Greg Fischer, among others. Heiner says he still supports diversity, but the assignment plan has not improved schools. He said scrapping the plan is only part of his education platform, which calls for more magnet schools and incentives for teachers at underperforming schools.

“What we need is a comprehensive re-look at how we go about education in this community, determine what resources are necessary to get there, then get about the business of improving these schools. We really have no time to waste in that regard,” he said.

The mayor has no direct power over JCPS, but Heiner said he would convene civic and business leaders to help bring about the proposed changes.

“Ultimately, JCPS will write the plan, but from a leadership standpoint to get this process started and get the community behind it in a leadership mode, we know we can do better in Louisville, and the time to start it is now,” he said.

After announcing her endorsement, Moxley said she doesn’t think it’s out of line for candidates to discuss education.

“I think it’s absolutely appropriate for the mayor to take a leadership role for issues that impact the city and this is an issue that impacts the city,” she said. “It impacts the families and the communities and the people who live here.”

Fischer has proposed using public-private partnerships and after-school programs to improve education.

Moxley is the third former Democratic candidate to endorse Heiner, following Shannon White and Tyler Allen. Metro Councilmen and former candidates David Tandy and Jim King have endorsed Fischer.

For full audio and Fischer’s response, visit The Edit.