EARN the People’s Vote!

First, a little history:

Open Letter to JCPS: Evaluate Current, Entire Student Assignment Plan

2020-09-29 | The above email was sent to JCPS Board of education and is part of the “official minutes” of that evening’s meeting.

Prior to that, representatives from educational justice-focused grassroots organizations had been fervently meeting via Zoom to respond to urgent educational needs and implement supports until the system could. The district’s student assignment plan was one of those heavy lift items that, if done right, could be a real game changer for our students of color and West Louisville families, who had been short-changed for generations.

We recognized the facilities needs and the current bonding capacity of the state’s largest school district putting a bottleneck on the district’s ability to pay for the needed facilities. But the underserved community, already struggling to stay housed, fed, well, and pay bills during a 100-year pandemic crisis, represented by several grassroots organizations I belong to or help lead, was not in support. I recognized this potential threat to the district’s proposal and I sent an URGENT email to Dr. Pollio requesting a meeting to warn him of this impending PR disaster and embarrassing loss at the November ballot box. We were placated and eventually ignored.

On Memorial Day, 2020, a newly formed coalition of organizations called AROS, met to discuss a strategy to bring Black and Black allied organizations on board and also counter the tea party’s rhetoric and petition to stop the badly needed tax increase, or “tax hike” as they called it, from going through, First they had to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot, which at the time was around 35,000. As a consensus, with four of the seven groups present during the meeting, the coalition agreed to move forward with a “pro-public education” pledge to differentiate from the tea party and also use it as an opportunity to collect names and contact info of supporters, raise funds, and create a legitimate campaign around this issue. We had been working with a federal PAC and some of us had proposed these ideas to Dr. Pollio during previous meetings. He seemed supportive.

I built a mock of a website and proposed we called our campaign pledge, “Stand with JCPS.” As it turns out, district leaders wanted us to be low-key then, too. The coalition’s efforts were silenced by certain white supremacist’s knees on our neck, several of the “less white” grassroots groups, including Louisville PTO, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, LSURJ, GLABSE and Dear JCPS broke off from AROS and formed our own alliance. In fact, Dear JCPS quit the AROS coalition entirely. We began to organize in support of the 2020 tax increase, under certain conditions, including garnering the support of Black-led and Black-allied grassroots organizations. This was quickly sabotaged by AROS chair, Chris Harmer, giving the tea party petition all the oxygen in the room. Groups splintered, JCTA leaders initiated a personal attack on me, and I ended up launching a simple little last minute petition saying, not no, just not yet. This action was more in the form of protest than anything, because everyone knew the tea party had more than enough signatures.

Meanwhile, just as Chris Harmer had indicated when he sent the email that torpedoed our coalition, a 501(c)4 called Yes4JCPS had indeed emerged. It began saying and doing all of the things we had been trying to do, but not very well. For example, they had not planned on putting out yard signs that say “VOTE YES” despite the tea-party’s very explicit “VOTE NO” message. Instead, they were relying on the flimsy “Support public schools” signs. So we ended up paying for some “VOTE YES” yard signs out of our own pockets. We were criticized by my own board member, James Craig, for asking for help paying for them, even though the 501(c)4 should have been paying for them with the tens of thousands of dollars they had received from the SCALA-scandal-riddled Jones estate. Despite being all volunteers and not having the financial backing that a group like Yes4JCPS has, we still managed to remember to include the proper disclosures on our yard signs (Yes4JCPS did not). Our volunteers ended up being the ones to distribute hundreds of signs they finally agreed to print. We also recruited volunteers to send out text messages. Stacks of YES 4 JCPS yard signs still sit in storage today because those who were supposed to help distribute them, such as JCTA officers, only got them so far before all the wind was taken out of our sails by a judge’s ruling just days before the election came to a close.

In direct response to the tone-deaf, interest-conflicted, white-bread-elite, 13-member board of Yes4JCPS, we formed our own “decision making council” to continue democratically and transparently soliciting community feedback and refining our list of demands. School board members, community leaders and grassroots organizers, as well as impacted parents, students and taxpayers participated in the dialogue. All summer long, and into the fall, the Coalition for the Peoples Agenda Education Committee continued meeting on Zoom every Monday at 4:00 PM. We continued gathering feedback from the community regarding changes to the student assignment plan and rolling up the feedback into categories that easily translated into solutions-oriented demands that were necessary. On Sept. 29, those comments were sent to the JCPS Board Members via email.

Evaluation of the current Student Assignment Plan in its entirety.

In fact, this was one of four reasonable demands to “EARN” the People’s vote. The rest were:

Anti-racist budget (national divest/invest conversation)
Resolution to Support the Coalition for the People’s Agenda
No wholesale return to in-person schooling until its safe

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, our Coalition finally had our first opportunity to share these concerns with Dr. Pollio since July 16. Some of our demands were met with promises that have yet to be delivered.

Fast forward to today:

With the quietly proposed 2023 tax increase going over 4%, it would appear that we have an opportunity to finish what we started. Our council will be meeting in the near future to revisit these demands, confirm voting members and develop our strategy. If you are interested in becoming a member, please email moderator@dearjcps.com

On Friday, June 16, 2023, ahead of a 3-day weekend, JCPS quietly posted a Tax Rate Hearing to their website.

2023-06-20 | I am sending the following email to the board and media.

More later!

The “EARN the People’s Vote” Council is a majority-non-white Coalition consisting of outspoken community leaders representing a broad array of allied grassroots voices. These leaders will vote “yes” or “no” on or before decision day in October to decide whether to support or oppose the proposed JCPS tax increase on the November ballot. Their message will be conveyed across the community through a strategic grassroots marketing campaign. In addition, the Coalition’s PAC will be focused on the two contested school board races, as well as several races on the ballot.

Below are the members of the 2020 Council:

Latasha Harrison, Louisville PTO President/Founder
De’Nita Wright, Facilitator Coalition of West Louisville Neighborhood Associations, Former Interim Chairperson of Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
Gay Adelmann, Dear JCPS, Save Our Schools Kentucky, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression Board Member
Rhonda Mathies, Former Chairperson of Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
Bob Cunningham, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression Co-founder
Matt Taylor, Incorporate West Louisville
Ivonne Rovira, JCPS Leads, Kentucky Educators United, JCPS Teacher
Heather Profitt, Advocate, Education Hub Non-profit
Chris Thieneman, Support the Libraries, Not the Tax Chair (2007), Mayoral Candidate (2018)
Chris Tobe, Author, Kentucky Fried Pensions, JCPS Parent
Leigh Ann Yost, Advocate, JCPS Parent
Liv Bohler, Student
Jumani Hightower, Student

Council members are being sought for 2023 and may be nominated and approved upon 2/3 vote from existing Council members, in increments of two, in order to maintain an odd number, until a maximum of up to 19 Council members has been met. Council members may be removed or replaced also upon 2/3 vote. In order to maintain the desired racial makeup, no more than half of the Council members may be white or white presenting at any given time.

Donations to support the coalition’s tax increase campaign can be made to Dear JCPS, LLC. The Coalition’s PAC, Justice for the People, is also accepting donations. The Council will also continue to demand accountability and transparency from district leaders after the ballot measure passes.