It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s true.
DISMANTLING STRUCTURAL RACISM IN JCPS
Some of the links are only available to individuals in the private facebook group:
I run a non-profit education advocacy group in Louisville, Kentucky. Our organization, Dear JCPS, was formed in 2015, after attempts to work within the existing system to advocate for some of our most vulnerable students failed.
We began exposing what I call “willful incompetence” of Superintendent Donna Hargens, especially when it comes to addressing racial injustices in the largest school district in the state. Considering more than 50% of the students who attend Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) are non-white, her tone-deafness was especially problematic. But it wasn’t just that she seemed indifferent to the challenges and hurdles that many of our families faced, many times made worse by rigid and frankly, racist, district policies, it’s that she and those who did her bidding, seemed to go out of their way to twist the knife every chance they got.
The existing organizations (PTA, JCTA, etc.), whose role it was to advocate on behalf of impacted families and teachers, appeared to have fallen asleep at the wheel, and efforts to arouse them were unsuccessful, and in fact, often met with resistance. The more we pressed on the administration to do the right things, the more we felt the sting of the snake’s bite. Pushing back, asking questions, doing open records requests, and paying attention to who flapped their wings when we got too close, we started to notice some patterns.
We also started paying attention to and making contacts with similarly situated districts and advocates in other states. We learned about groups like ALEC and the Koch Brothers, who were systematically targeting, infiltrating and destroying public schools across the country and Kentucky was the largest state (three times larger than the next state after us), to not yet have charter school legislation. Jefferson County Public Schools, which was the byproduct of a city/county merger in 2002, is coincidentally three times larger than our next closest in size neighboring district in Lexington.
We had a target on our backs. We were left with very little room to doubt that Hargens had been put in that position to do the bidding of some powerful elites in our community to accomplish the same goal. That belief was confirmed, for me at least, when I witnessed the forced renewal of her 4-year contract by none other than, JCPS Board Chair, David Jones, Jr.
During the 2016 election cycle, our coalition held candidate-interest meetings in an attempt to attract better quality candidates who would be willing to serve. Chris Kolb attended one of our meetings, accompanied by the well-known racial justice advocate Tom Moffett, in his legendary red sweater.
In addition to Kolb, we endorsed two other candidates who supported doing whatever it took to hold Dr. Hargens accountable for her privatizer-friendly moves, including removing her from office before her term was up, if possible. They repeatedly referenced Jones’ forced contract renewal as the reason why firing her was not possible. I would reply, almost jokingly, “yeah, but she could resign.” They would nod in agreement, even if it seemed out of reach.
Chris Brady, the only other incumbent running for reelection, took a more cautious approach and wouldn’t sign on to “firing” Hargens, but he agreed she was part of the problem and promised to hold her more accountable. He was definitely preferable to the dark-horse, dark-money challenger who came out of the Wisconsin woodwork. The teachers union invested heavily in protecting Brady’s seat.
Our campaign slogan was “We all win with Chris, Chris and Ben.” And we did! Finally, we had a majority of board members who recognized Hargens for who she was, but still, their hands were tied. I reached out to five or six of the board members by phone and asked if it would be helpful if we organized around this issue. I specifically asked them how they felt about a rally at Van Hoose asking her to step down. One by one, they told me they would support such an action, and by the time I had spoke with enough to know I had support from the majority of the board, I knew what we had to do. In fact, NOT doing so, after promising so many of them that I would, felt like it would be a violation of their trust.
On February 21, 2017, I spearheaded a rally where several grassroots groups and individuals, including labor groups, came together and demanded the superintendent step down. AFSCME was one of the most visible groups participating in the rally, but there were also representatives from LSURJ, the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a JCPS father whose petition for Hargens’ removal had garnered 6,000 signatures, and many others.
On April 13, 2017, less than two months after our demonstration, Hargens would announce her resignation, which would become effective June 1. Unfortunately, it was too late to undo the havoc her toxic and retaliatory leadership had wreaked. https://www.wdrb.com/news/education/reaction-pours-in-after-jcps-superintendent-donna-hargens-announces-resignation/article_eb5b712a-fb34-5bbb-b8c2-592b4804c9be.html
Those with privatizer ties, such as Mayor Fischer and GLI, had nothing but out-of-touch things to say about her departure, but AFSCME leader, Ron Richmond, was quoted as saying,
Donna Hargens’ announced resignation ushers in an opportunity for positive change in employee relations between AFSCME members and the remaining district leaders. The six years under Hargens were marked by strained relationships and difficult nonproductive negotiations. Her more recent actions were spearheading efforts to delay recognition for Food Nutrition service workers into AFSCME local 4011. As we enter negotiations this summer our hope is that this change in leadership will translate into an attitude of respect and cooperation at the table.
Ron Richmond, AFSCME
The teachers union, on the other hand, credited the school board for the “decision” and remained a bit more neutral (or oblivious).
“The Association respects the school board’s judgment in reaching this decision. Certainly, based on teachers’ responses on recent district surveys, there has been a significant erosion in educators’ confidence in the district’s leadership.”
After Jones was ousted from the JCPS school board, he continued working behind the scenes trying to continue accomplishing these goals. We learned about a super-secret group of elites, called SCALA, who had been meeting to further the Louisville agenda, based on the Nashville model, which they perceived to be aspirational. I say “continued working behind the scenes,” because even as an elected JCPS Board member, Jones’ covert actions were called into question on several other occasions, including influencing the hires of Jonathan Lowe and CBO, Tom Hudson, a clear violation of his oath of office.
Tess McNair, who runs the Jones family’s $72 million philanthropic foundation, played a significant role last year in the district’s hiring of Director of Strategy Jonathan Lowe, according to emails obtained by WDRB News under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Let’s take a closer look at Tess McNair, David Jones, Jr., David Jones, Sr. and others in their lair. Tess is the executive director for CE&S Foundation, where’s she’s been since 2012 (the same year my son started in JCPS). CE&S Foundation was formed by an estate planning attorney with Greenebaum, Doll, McDonald in 1990. His name was A. Robert Doll, and he continued to serve as Director, President, Secretary and Treasurer, along with Wanda Ryan as the Assistant Secretary. He remained as the sole officer until the 2003 filing. CE&S appears to have been turned over to David A Jones, the Humana co-founder, around 2005. (2004 reports are missing from the Secretary of State’s website). Along with the senior Jones family member, who was also a very, very close friend of Mitch McConnell’s, Wanda Ryan continued as Treasurer, and Bryan K. Johnson, as Secretary and also as Registered Agent. Coincidentally, Bryan K. Johnson and David A Jones managed Longwood, LLC together, which was dissolved last year, following his death. Mr. Johnson also appears on the JPJ Investments listing along with Jones Associates, LLC and WT&C Corporate Services. It just so happens that WT&C Corporate Services shares the initials as the lawfirm that represents Jefferson County Public Schools. Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs is also listed as their Registered Agent, so probably more than just a coincidence.
Oh, and Bryan K. Johnson is also employed with Tandem Public Relations, and on the board of The Parklands with several Jones family members. Sandra Frazier is also involved with both.
There was also a lawsuit claiming Jones was ineligible to serve on JCPS School Board.
In the reply from Jones, he does not even respond to several of the allegations. He focuses primarily on the Main Street Realty conflict and states that that is his father and not him, as if that absolves his conflicts of interest. Yet, standing to inherit a conflict of interest is still a conflict of interest. Now that his father has passed, he is listed as the first Director on the Secretary of State’s website.
Main Street Realty has been a family affair since the organization was formed in the 1990’s. Here we see his wife, Betty, also listed, and one of Jones’ employees, Wanda Ryan, who continues signing on to the documents for decades.
More recently, Jones was rumored to have put his thumb on SB250, a bill JCTA-endorsed Senator Julie Raque Adams sponsored, which GLI marketed and appears to have co-authored (seeing as how Senator Adams’ speech to the shopped committee read almost word for word like the statement on the GLI website). Senator Morgan McGarvey acknowledged Jones’ involvement when he told me, “you should have seen the bill before I got involved.”
I said, “you should have left it because we would have recognized it for what it was and would have turned out en masse to stop it.” I felt that his efforts to “help” made it worse. I went on to say, “don’t make shit sandwiches, because we are the ones who have to eat them.”
I even mentioned during my March 12, 2019 speech to the JCPS Board of Education that “this bill has Jones and Cosby written all over it.”
JCTA’s president for life, Brent McKim, bragged to a close friend of mine that HE was the one who got Senator Adams to sponsor the bill, which took power away from parents and teachers and gave it squarely to the superintendent, effectively erasing the last good parts of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, after the state supreme court ruled that the entire education system was inequitable and corrupt and must be overhauled.
Shortly after the aforementioned rally, I received a call from the 15th District PTA President, Heather Wampler. She said that Dr. Hargens “wants you off the PTA board.” She was referring to the 15th District PTA, also known as the Superintendent’s PTA, on which we all served as executive officers. She asked me if I would step down from my role as Vice President, a third term I was serving spectacularly, and one that would be expiring in just a few months.
A bit more frantically, she said Hargens “could take away our clothes closet” referring to the space and support staff at Central High School. She also said she could deny PTAs access to JCPS schools.
I laughed, thinking how absurd this demand was, and retorted, “Bring it!” explaining that’s exactly the ammunition we needed to get her to step down. If Hargens wanted me off the board that badly, Heather was going to have to call for a vote of the 15th District PTA Board.
She said she would. We even laughed that once Hargens steps down, I could come back. This is reaffirmed at the end of the meeting where they voted me off, you can hear them invite me to stat for cake, and sounds of us laughing and joking together.
An emergency meeting of the 15th District PTA was called. As people arrived at Heather’s multilevel house backing up to a beautiful greenway off Dorsey Road, that she had bought sight unseen when she and her husband, Brian, who also served as an officer on the PTA, decided to move from California. She became an officer in the PTA just a short time later and ended up changing the bylaws so she could remain in power longer. Sound familiar.
As fellow board members, such as Manual PTA President Pinky Jackson, and JCPS Parent Liaison (a paid position) Sharon Whitworth, whose dual position as PTA parliamentarian proved to be a conflict of interest on more than one occasion, starting sauntering in, it was clear some had no idea why they were there.
As the meeting progressed, it also became clear that others had their lines down pat. It is not inconceivable that a pre-meeting (known as a rehearsal in the theatre world) was held to discuss the exact wording of the motion, who would vote how and how to stifle the conversation before it goes sideways against their pre-meditated plan. You see, I witnessed these same tactics when there was a vote to spend $800 of PTA dues money on bed bug treatment for the PTA Treasurer, who supposedly brought them into her house when she collected files from one of the schools they were auditing or supporting. I accidentally came across a private email before the meeting where several of them were discussing who would make the motion and how they could call for the vote before there was too much discussion and if they had enough votes to make sure it would pass. This was further evidenced by the more public email exchanges following the meeting where several objected to how the vote was handled and how they would have liked to have more discussion and perhaps do a fundraiser or each kick in to pay for it instead of using dues monies to pay for it. I may be able to provide screenshots that confirm this. More evidence of PTA leaders scheming to achieve a desired outcome came when several of us tried to run for office again and their leaders went out of their way to prevent us from having a fair chance at being elected or serving. There is even an acknowledgement and justification why they did so provided by a state officer in Oct. 2022. It comes at the very end of this audio recording, following the school board candidates forum. My handheld recorder was still going in my bag.
Adam Kessler made a recommendation to vote me off the board. It was in that meeting in June of 2017 that I heard some accusations for the first time, such as that I had misrepresented myself at a meeting at Maupin. A letter that was supposedly written by the principal, Maria Holmes, was produced. When I explained how these events actually unfolded, I was told that you “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
In 2018, Latasha Harrison and I applied to run for an officer position on the PTA board. We were not chosen, so we recruited a slate of our own, to run from the floor. (Not only were we not chosen, but barrier after barrier were put up to prevent us from having a chance at serving.)
We asked for Chris Harmer’s help and he said he didn’t want to get involved because it was “personal.”
12-16-19 – Latasha and I met with Dr. Pollio, proposed tax increase strategies, student assignment plan changes,
The idea to position the tax increase proposal as a way to “end busing” by building West End schools came from Latasha and I during a meeting around that time. (I pitched this idea to AROS prior to that but Chris Harmer shot it down because he “couldn’t see it.”)
I was elected to the Kentucky Alliance Board at the beginning of this year. As such, I’ve been trying to raise awareness that the tax increase was coming and that we should support it.
At our very first in-person board meeting of 2020, and in every board meeting since, I have made some presentation about the opportunity for Alliance voices and faces to help shape the conversation, to be a point of contact for “opinion” for the media, to fundraise, and to be a group that held press conferences on these subjects and to gather coalition feedback to craft our own list of demands. Right now JCPS, JCTA and the tea partiers are the only ones with any leverage.
For the three or so years I have been attending People’s Agenda meetings, I have heard the Alliance talk about developing a Black Agenda. More recently, I have been talking to Tyra about asking the JCPS board to adopt a resolution to support it, like they did with the Safe Haven resolution in 2017.
At that first KY Alliance board meeting, I wrote out two motions. I don’t have copies of the exact wording, but one had to do with student assignment and one had to do with the upcoming tax increase, and a motion for the Alliance to offer support as long as the district continued to work toward racial justice. Neither one passed.
In February, Latasha Harrison (President of the Louisville PTO) and I submitted a community-led proposal to the district to coordinate community feedback and support efforts so that the tax increase would be widely supported, guided by community buy-in toward building new schools in the West End and providing more equitable opportunities around choice for West End families. A combination of both ideas above as a message that would generate great dialogue, which would lead to great buy-in from all parts of the Louisville community. The proposal consisted of a fundraising component, as well as marketing and PR component, with, of course, an accountability component, because the district needs to be as explicit as possible about how these funds will be spent if they truly expect community support.
A copy is uploaded here: http://dearjcps.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Proposal%20from%20ORR.pdf
March 18 – Meeting with Marty
Our proposal was not accepted. Instead, a firm from Danville’s was. Because they believed so strongly in their proposal, Latasha and I continued executing it on a shoestring budget. (About $3,000 of the $10,000 grant has been spent on tshirts, yard signs, literature, banners and social media advertising. Our time and additional expenses are not compensated.)
May 6 – Louisville PTO Meeting
May 25 – On Memorial Day evening, AROS met and had a quorum present. We discussed the importance of supporting the district in their pleas for more funds as long as they continued to say and do all the right things. I stressed that if we don’t’ start organizing with our own narrative, and collecting our own signatures, we will be left behind. We agreed to move forward with a website that included a pledge, some FAQs and videos from Dr. Pollio explaining his intentions with the funds raised.
On June 1, Latasha, Tyra and I had a meeting scheduled with Dr. Pollio to discuss the idea of a resolution, but it was the day after David McAtee was killed, so neither one of them were able to join us. (This meeting was rescheduled for 7/16/20.)
In the mean time, the Black community has been overwhelmed with the continued injustice surrounding the overpolicing of their bodies, and the trauma and terrorism they are fending off every day that these injustices are prolonged. So expecting them to drop everything and pay attention to a tax increase right now is too much to expect. This is why they needed more time.
6-1-20 – Call with Marty. Tyra and Latasha were unable to join. Sent examples of Teachable Moments via email.
Approx 6-4 – Ten days later, AROS reconvened only to have the chairperson tell us that the plan is on hold because the consulting firm wants to wait. After a great deal of pleading with the AROS chair, the group agreed to continue once again, only to be halted another time so that we could meet with Dr. Pollio and hear from him as to why we needed to wait.
6-26-20 – We were invited by Chris to hear from Dr Pollio about what JCPS plans were and why we were waiting to launch a campaign.
In at least two different meetings, Marty informed us that the district intends to form their own “grassroots” 501c4, do their own fundraising, sell tshirts and yard signs and such, and appoint their own steering committee to lead it. They are essentially executing the plays that we’ve been sharing with them since December.
Friday, 7-10-20 – was the deadline to submit signatures to force the tax increase measure onto the ballot. That Thursday, I sent out an email on Dear JCPS’s Mail chimp account, asking folks to sign the pledge that had not yet been able to be launched due to all of the delays with AROS and rebuilding a coalition. It said we still support the tax increase, but we needed more time to get black voters on board. It invited signers to check a box if they also wanted to add their name to the petition.
7-12-20 Chris Harmer sends a “do not join” email to all AROS leaders. Misrepresents and conflates the website that was still in development with the email I sent out asking for more time.
7-16-20 – Tyra and I met with Pollio to discuss Black Agenda, teachable moments. We told him we were being shut down within AROS. He denied any knowledge of what we were telling him. I said then he’s being used and once again asked for him to keep an eye out for these injustices and provide his support. I told him I would send him more info.
After the call, as promised, I sent several text messages with evidence of our concerns, and copied Tyra and Latasha. He never responded.
7-20-20 – Latasha continues to inquire about how to join AROS. Harmer sends her a very dismissive email. Its “genesis as a Dear JCPS organizing project?” “no time to get to know each other easily?” “Unanimously accepted?” “Look each other over?” “Automatically join?”
July – Stand with JCPS coalition made up of JCPS teachers, parents and other stakeholders begins working on the pro-public education pledge.
8-7-20 – I sent an email on behalf of leaders from four black and black allied organizations requesting an urgent meeting before the board voted on student assignment on 8/18/20. The reply we got stated the vote had been postponed to 9/29 at the earliest. We never heard anything else from Dr. Pollio or his secretary after this.
8/11/20 – Kentucky alliance sent an email to the JCPS board requesting the ability to speak.
8/18/20, after sending a follow up inquiry, the alliance received a reply that they were working on it, essentially.
8/18/20 – The JCPS board voted to challenge the signatures on the petition, as well as the county clerk’s process, despite Kolb’s prior rationale that by passing the measure on May 21, they were simply putting in on the ballot for the voters to decide. “All you are doing is giving the community a choice.
9/1/20 The Coalition for the People’s Agenda sent an open letter to the board to be included in the meeting minutes.
Only one reply was received. It was from Chris Kolb. (this has not yet been made public, but it is full of inaccuracies, so please allow me to )
Several folks replied to him, including Tyra Walker, KA Owens and Ivonne Rovira. Here is Tyra’s response: https://dearjcps.com/tyras-response/
On 9/1/20, during the Board Meeting- Board Member Marshall asked Dr. Pollio if a REAP had been done on the proposed changes to the student assignment plan. I was watching a slightly delayed broadcast and heard him ask incorrectly and sent a message to him to clarify they were asking for the current plan, not the proposed changes.
While the Board meeting was still going on, I forwarded the email I had received from the Open Records attorney to Mr. Marshall, and copied Carla Robinson with 15th District PTA. Marshall was quick to let me know that he forwarded it to Dr. Pollio.
Was this to discredit the Coalition since they knew this was one of our demands? Why else would he volunteer that information when that wasn’t even one of the questions Mr. Marshall had asked him?
See video documentation here:
9/2/20 – Carla replied, confirming that both PTA and Urban League had requested the REAP and in fact were told DEP would perform one live. They have not delivered.
I did another open records request to ask if maybe one had since been done, only to be told it had not. Only this time it was “substantial” portions.
9-14-20 Joe Marshall sent me an email with the file he had received from the district,
I let him know it looked like the one they had already sent her that was pieces of the plan and proposed changes, not the entire thing.
9/15/20 Work session
9/18/20 – Renee Murphy called to set up a meeting with Dr. Polio.
#DecisionDay from the grand jury.
9/28/20 – Got a late night (10:00 – 11:30 PM) call from Sadiqa Reynolds and Michelle Pennix. Dr. Kish Cumi Price was also on the call. They wanted to discuss the tax increase demands and come up with something the board could do to get the support of the coalition. There were a number of great suggestions that Sadiqa said she would take back to Dr. Pollio, including 3 counselors in every AIS school when they reopen.
9/29/20 – JCPS Board meeting. Sent another email to be included in the minutes. Launched the coalition’s decision making council with some powerful names on board. Dr. Pollio mentioned several things we’ve been asking for during his Superintendent’s report with regards to the budget, tax increase and school reopening.
10/1/20 – Got PTA data.
These notes are just thrown out there to try to get my thoughts in one place. There are several witnesses to much of what I’m saying (LH, IR, GT and TE to name a few), so I will also ask for them to help me edit this for accuracy. I apologize if I’ve jumped the shark or gotten anything wrong, but the truth needs to be told or we’re going to keep repeating these same injustices.