Gov. Matt Bevin says he is confident that a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools will ultimately withstand any legal challenge, though he said such a lawsuit might prevail at the trial court level where he said Kentucky has many incompetent judges.
In an interview May 3 with WHAS Radio’s Leland Conway, Bevin blamed problems within JCPS on the local school board and teachers union and said that the state’s interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has charted a thoughtful plan for recovery by recommending the state takeover.
“Having decision-making removed from the people that have failed is to me something absolutely worthy of consideration because the local JCPS school board has failed miserably the students in this county,” Bevin said.
On April 30, Lewis released a 14-month management audit of the district along with his recommendation for a state takeover. The move would shift governing authority of the state’s largest school district from JCPS’s elected board to Lewis as the state’s education commissioner.
Lewis has said he would delegate authority for the daily operation of the district to Superintendent Marty Pollio, while allowing the school board to serve in advisory role.
But Lewis would have ultimate decision-making power and would be able to remove Pollio or JCPS board members at any time.
The district has until May 30 to appeal Lewis’ recommendation to the Kentucky Board of Education, an 11-member panel which as of last month is comprised totally of appointees by Bevin. If the state board accepts the recommendation, some JCPS board members say they want to appeal the decision to the courts.
Bevin said in Thursday’s WHAS Radio interview there would be no sound legal basis for a lawsuit. He said the state took over two local districts during the administration of his predecessor Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, showing that there is “absolute statutory authority for the board of education and the commissioner of education to do exactly what it is that they are contemplating doing. And I encourage them to thoughtfully proceed forward.”
The governor said that “liberals” believe any takeover threatens their influence.
“They’re about power and control and influence for themselves — the adults. And that’s the problem. That’s why the children are being left behind,” Bevin said. “When their power and control are threatened, the first thing they do is run to the courts because they know that’s where they know that’s where their friends hang out.”
Bevin then redirected his blasts towards the judiciary.
At the trial court level, Bevin said, “We have many, many judges in Kentucky who do not deserve to be judges, should not be judges. That’s something we as a state need to look at … Many of the lower level judges in this state are not competent judges and they do things based on personal decisions and not what the law itself says.”
“And the liberals know this, so they know that the first round they’re likely to win,” Bevin said.
Bevin said judges in Kentucky’s appellate courts are more competent. Of several lawsuits challenging his actions filed by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin said, “He always wins the first round with his friends in Franklin Circuit Court. But then he loses as you move up the line.”
But Beshear has not always won in Franklin Circuit Court and lost on appeal. In fact, the opposite occurred in a 2016 lawsuit brought by Beshear challenging Bevin’s authority to cut state funding of universities. In that case, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in Bevin’s favor, but Wingate’s ruling was overturned by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
In the most high-profile case, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd did rule in favor of Beshear’s lawsuit challenging Bevin’s overhaul of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. And that suit was dismissed last year by the supreme court, but the high court said it dismissed the case because it was made moot because the legislature had passed a new law creating a new process clarifying the governor’s ability to modify university boards.
Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said he had no comment on Bevin’s remarks about the incompetence of many judges.
Bevin said the JCPS board is more beholden to the teachers’ union than parents and students. “Don’t kid yourself. This is political. And it’s about power. And it’s about money. And it’s about union dues. And it’s about who gets to elect — and if people don’t think that the teachers’ union has elected the school board in Jefferson County they haven’t been paying attention.”
And the governor rejected any suggestion that a state takeover surrenders local control to the state or the influence of parents over their children’s education.
Bevin noted that Lewis has said he intends to leave Pollio in control of daily operations, and Bevin repeated that he believes Pollio “seems to be doing a phenomenal job with respect to what he’s been handed.”
And Bevin said, “Ultimately we’ll end up with a system — I would hope — where the parents and the students have more control than they’ve ever had, more influence than they’ve ever had, are listened to more than they’ve ever been — at least in the last generation.”
Chris Brady, a JCPS board member, disputed Bevin’s comments, saying that problems at JCPS or any school district are rooted in years of inadequate state funding of schools. Brady also noted that it was the board that hired Pollio, who Bevin has singled out for praise.
And Brady said it was Bevin, not the board or teachers’ union, who is playing politics.
“This is about charter schools, this about privatizing public education, this is about trying to break unions and the only organized resistance to his dictatorial agenda,” Brady said of Bevin.“This is about charter schools, this about privatizing public education, this is about trying to break unions and the only organized resistance to his dictatorial agenda,” Brady said of Bevin.Click To Tweet
Written by Tom Loftus.
Cross-posted by permission from the Courier-Journal via Kentucky Press News Service.