Accountability, Privatization of Public Education, Racial Equity

None of This Is New, Unexpected or Unavoidable


Below is an email that was sent to the board by a JCPS employee back in March, 2023. We originally posted it last month.

To members of the Board, or whomever else it may concern,

What are your thoughts about the proposal?

First, since I was only allowed to select one role in the previous question, I do want to point out that I am also a School Staff member as well. I have been a teacher in JCPS for 14+ years. I am also a father of 2 JCPS students, a 7 year old and 5 year old. And I live in Louisville, and I am a Community Member. So I’m not sure why we had to choose just one that we most identify with, because my reaction to the proposal isn’t just through one lens, but through many. I chose to identify more as a parent/family member because in the end, personally, I believe this proposal will affect my family more than it will affect me as a teacher in my specific situation. But I think it will affect the community as a whole more than anything. I think all 3 of those roles need to be considered when taking into account my response.

On to the proposal…I have A LOT of thoughts, and could very easily turn this into an emotional venting session. However, I will attempt to keep my thoughts organized and respectful in the hopes that this is not just for optics, and will not fall on deaf ears, but will actually be taken into account before this proposal is considered, voted on, and implemented.

If I had to summarize my thoughts, again, without getting too emotional, and trying my best not to just sound like I am venting, I truly think this proposal is a joke. I can’t think of a better, more professional word, so unfortunately that is what I am sticking with. I think this could be a disaster for the entire community and city of Louisville, let alone JCPS. I think there were so many factors that were not considered when making this proposal, which I will detail in the questions below. I think the district set out to solve one very specific (and admittedly one very important) problem. They believe they have found the solution to this problem, but are so narrow minded in their solution, they do not see how negatively this will affect so many people, both immediately and well into the future. In the end, this looks more like an ill-advised attempt to just cover up a major underlying problem instead of actually solving the problem as a whole.

What do you see as benefits of the proposal?

The only benefit I see to this proposal is that it is bringing to light a very real, very unfortunate, and very important problem that absolutely needs to be solved. The issue of students getting to school late, or being stuck at school late, is truly unacceptable, and needs to be addressed swiftly and decisively. Any student, parent, and family member, along with the bus drivers, who are all having to deal with this on a daily basis, deserve to have this issue brought to light, and solved in a realistic and effective manner. That cannot be denied.

What do you see as challenges that need to be considered?

I am going to attempt to organize this into subheadings, to make sure it is easy to follow and I don’t miss anything. I don’t necessarily think there is one issue more important than the other, so I will just try to organize this in a logical way. Every item touched on below I believe has equal importance and needs to be considered.

  1. Lack of an interdisciplinary committee of stakeholders: The lack of an interdisciplinary committee in the formation of this plan is very disturbing. This survey is asking Community Members, District Staff, School Staff, Parents, Family Members, and Students for feedback, all of whom are important stakeholders in what is being proposed. However, if I’m understanding correctly, there was little to no stakeholder involvement in the formation of this plan. Instead, it was outsourced to “MIT coders,” who used an algorithm, apparently, too advanced and complex for us to understand, to solve our problem. After seeing the presentation made to JCPS staff, and then watching Dr. Pollio’s press conference, what became very evident to me is that these coders were paid, probably a good deal of money, to solve what ends up being a complex math problem. What can we do, using math, to solve the “transportation crisis?” It looks like they took into account bus routes, bus employees, the physical layout of the city, locations of the schools, and start times. With all due respect to the incredibly smart people who solved this problem, the district could have paid mathematicians, scientists, and engineers here to solve this problem, and they could have come up with a similar solution. However, no evidence has been presented to us whatsoever to show that they took any other information into account, or how this plan could have a cascading negative effect on the entire city of Louisville, its economy and its community, as I will detail below.
  2. Teacher Transfers: As a teacher, selfishly, the one thing that stood out to me, and all of my peers, was the point made in the presentation to us and in Dr. Pollio’s press conference about Teacher Transfers. If the new start times don’t work for you, then you can put in to transfer to another school for next school year. I am one that is not easily offended, but to me, that is incredibly insensitive to those of us who have stuck around through the mass exodus of JCPS teachers (and bus drivers) over the past few years. Many of us have worked very hard to have the opportunity to work where we are now. We have built relationships with our peers, our administrators, and most importantly our students. It doesn’t seem like this was considered in the proposal. 
  3. JCPS Employee Morale: The previous two points logically lead into this. In my almost 15 years working for JCPS, I would say that employee morale is at an all-time low. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know personally, my responses in the Comprehensive School Survey have gotten more and more negative as the years have gone on. And it doesn’t seem like that matters to anyone, because teachers and staff members continually get dumped on. Optically, how does it look that we weren’t included in this proposal? Optically, how does it look that we are being told if the proposal doesn’t work for us, then we can move. Has anyone actually analyzed WHY we have a transportation and why there has been a mass exodus of teachers out of JCPS (more on this later)? In what other profession are employees consistently treated the way we are treated, without addressing why there is so much discontent? 
  4. Staffing Shortage (Teachers and Bus Drivers): While it is obvious that this proposal does not at all address the reason behind the staffing shortage, it is possible that it could make it even worse. Were bus drivers consulted about this proposal? Does this help the hours that they are expected to work, or the overall distances that they are expected to drive? That was not very clearly addressed in the press conference. Don’t we have a transportation crisis because of our bus driver shortage? Is the district not concerned with the REASON behind the staffing shortage across the district (again, more on this later).
  5. Student Transfers Logistics: Similar to the proposal’s plan for teachers to have to transfer if the new times don’t work for them, the proposal and press conference also made it clear that students can apply to transfer as well, and the district will work with every single family to make it work. Were the logistics of this considered by the MIT coders? I’m not going to speculate on how many students will actually need to transfer, but let’s assume that there are some. Does the algorithm take into account how those kids will get to school? How those bus routes will work? On the district side, do we realistically think we have the capacity and manpower to solve these problems, on the fly, just over the summer? And if a parent can’t justify or make it work that their student can get to a new school, is the district ok with parents pulling their students out of JCPS to attend Catholic or Private schools, or even worse, forcing families to have to consider moving to other counties or states? I know this seems a little extreme, but I can promise you it will be a reality for some families.
  6. Adolescent Sleep Schedule and Chronic Absenteeism:  When this topic first came up, it was to use the research on the adolescent sleep schedule to help solve the problem of chronic absenteeism. While these buzzwords and phrases were still used in the proposal and press conference, the reality is that this proposal is not really solving that problem. It is only concerned with making the bus routes more efficient. If this truly was about older students getting more sleep, which in turn would guarantee that they get to school more often, wouldn’t the most logical solution be to just swap the high school and elementary start times?  This plan only changes some high schools, and makes some elementary schools later than they already are. It is very inconsistent, the message that is being sent. In regard to chronic absenteeism, as a teacher and parent, I would very much like to see the research that was done specifically in our city of Louisville showing the main causes of chronic absenteeism. Is it truly sleep related? Is it transportation related? Is it safety related? Is it demographic related? Is it related to a student’s home life? All questions don’t seem like they were considered, or at least answered by the proposal.
  7. Working Parents: Dr. Pollio mentioned in his press conference that families are going to have to figure out how to make this work. Well let’s think about that logistically for a minute. If you have one parent who works and early job, or works the night shift and is sleeping, or is a teacher at a different school, and then you have another parent who works a traditional 9-5+, how exactly are they supposed to make this work? Previously, and elementary school student could be dropped off at 8:45 AM, letting the other parent get to their 9:00 AM job. Now, let’s assume that their employer is not ok with them getting to work 30-45 minutes later, every day. Parents are now going to be strong armed into paying for CEP. What if the CEP site is not close to where the family lives, and causes even more of a morning inconvenience? What if a family hasn’t budgeted for this and can’t afford it, but they also don’t qualify for government aid for the CEP program? I also don’t see how using CEP as a solution solves the problem of kids being at school for too long. If a parent has to drop their kid off at CEP early, then have to pick them up, possibly later than before at a CEP site, which will now be affected by a newer rush hour traffic pattern, kids can still be at school many more hours than they should be.
  8. After School Activities – JCPS Related: I heard a few times during the press conference about it only ever being an hour different than it was before, or the latest it will be is 4:20 PM. However, was it really taken into account how much of an impact that hour, or the 4:20 PM end time would affect students and staff alike? And I’m not just talking about the problem about high school sports starting later, and at different times, and how that could be perceived as unfair for the athletes with different practice times, game schedules, travel times for away games, etc. What about the JCPS employees who coach, or lead clubs, at different schools or even different districts? What if they do that, not just because they are passionate about it, but because they also need the additional income? What about the JCPS employees who have a second job immediately after work to support their families? What about the high school students who have jobs immediately after school, whether it is just something they do to prepare for the real world, or because they also have to support themselves and their families? This cuts into work hours, which in turn cuts into income, which may be the difference between being able to pay rent and afford food or not. Does the proposal take into account all of these employers probably not being ok with this new schedule (more on community impact later)? Do we really think these students will be able to retain their after-school jobs with the time changes? WHERE IS THE EQUITY IN THIS?
  9. After School Activities (Non-JCPS related) and Community Impact: First, I want to acknowledge that I am in a very fortunate situation, that my wife and I worked hard for, to be able to afford our kids the privilege and ability to participate in non-JCPS after-school activities. I want to give an example of our situation, and how that will not only affect our kids’s ability to participate in these activities, but how it also will impact local businesses and the community. Our kids have played soccer at Mockingbird Valley Sports Club. It is the after-school choice that we made, because it is relatively close to our home, with a schedule that worked for us. We would pick our kids up from school, and get them to their lesson at 4:00 PM. With this proposal, that will no longer be an option for us. So let’s extrapolate this situation to other families who are also in similar situations at Mockingbird. If they, Mockingbird, are unable to adjust their hours to accommodate these changes, then they will be losing a lot of business due to something completely out of their control. Then we, as the parents and families, have to look into other options for our kids. An example of another option for our age group would be Javanon Football Club, which is a rival of Mockingbird, that has a similarly aged lesson available at 6:00 PM. So this could work for our families. But Javanon is about 15-20 minutes away, so then you have to take into account the small influx in traffic this will cause, during rush hour. Again, this is a very small, very specific example of a very small demographic of JCPS students and families. But now, extrapolate all that data to every single activity that many JCPS students participate in, all of the changes that will have to be made due to this proposal, and how that affects the community and local businesses at large, both economically and logistically. 
  10. Traffic/Rush Hour: I have now mentioned a few examples for a potential increase in traffic closer to rush hour. Did the MIT coders take that into account when coming up with this solution? Was it considered what life is like in larger cities with worse rush hour traffic than what we have now? How that impacts other professionals leaving their jobs, less time spent with family due to getting home later, how the increase in later after-school activities would all be impacted? Not only that, but more new high school drivers and more staff members would be leaving schools and after school events and activities later in the day. Is it safe for these new drivers to be on the road in heavier traffic conditions?
  11. Budget and Government Money: I will admit that I am not as well versed or researched in this area, but from my understanding, JCPS receives a pretty sizable amount of money from the government every year, and that has not decreased in recent years, even with the mass exodus of teachers, bus drivers, and students in some cases. If this proposal goes through, and causes even more of an exodus of teachers, bus drivers, and students, how will that affect the budget going forward? Also, is it fair for me to ask, if JCPS is still receiving the same amount of money each year, where is all the extra money going that used to be paid to the teachers and bus drivers that have left these past couple of years? There is another topic I would like to discuss in regards to money, and its allocation. I’m sure this issue has been beaten to death, but hear me out.
  12. Busing: Again, I am admittedly not the most well versed or researched in the history and reasoning for busing in Louisville. What I do know is that it has been going on in this city for a very long time, and was originally initiated in an attempt to desegregate our schools due to geographic location, provide equal opportunity and equity to all students of all races and demographics, and to help close the achievement gap. In my opinion, that was truly a valiant attempt at solving a very serious problem in our city at the time. But can we objectively analyze the climate of our city and schools today and say that it has worked? In reality, busing is a large part of the reason why we have a transportation crisis in the first place. Now let’s look at our schools, and what busing has caused. Is the achievement gap really being closed, or is everyone just normalizing to the median, rather than everyone being raised to the higher outliers? Does busing kids all over the city truly promote equity and provide equal opportunities to all students? Or is it causing more resentment in our community? What does this outdated busing plan imply about the schools they are busing away from? Are we more concerned with getting the underprivileged kids to the “better schools” than we are about lifting up all of our programs and schools to an equally high level?I think these are important questions that need to be discussed and answered.
  13. The Real Problem: I have been beating around the bush for some time now, so let’s talk about what the real problem is in our district. What is it that has caused our staffing shortage of teachers and bus drivers, which has led us to have overpopulated classrooms, and a “transportation crisis” due to too few bus drivers? Student behavior and lack of discipline leading to a general overall feeling of JCPS schools and buses no longer being safe for all students and staff members. I can attest to this as a tenured JCPS teacher, a parent, and a community member. JCPS has allowed itself to become a victim of modern, “woke” society, and its employees and students are the ones paying the price. Fifteen years ago when I first joined JCPS, administrators ran the schools, took care of their employees, and demanded respect from the students.They received support from the district. Students were disciplined in a variety of ways, which to today’s modern “woke” society might seem archaic, but the results were clear. The students respected the staff members, their elders, and if they didn’t, they learned to. This lead to a healthy and positive work environment, where, for the most part, students and staff members felt safe and cared for. It also prepared students for the real world of college and careers where they couldn’t just do or say whatever they wanted with no repercussions. Over the past 15 years, as society changed, JCPS began to slowly start enabling problem students (AND problem parents) until we got to where we are today. Enabled students led to more enabled students. Now, students think they are invincible, that there are no repercussions for their actions, because there truly are not. Not any more. I have seen, personally, violent acts between students, violent acts directed towards staff members, gang violence in many schools, extreme destruction of school property, excessive bullying, complete disrespect and insubordination from students in the classroom, that is literally being live streamed to Facebook or YouTube. How are these kids disciplined? They aren’t. They don’t even get a “slap on the wrist” any more and sent back to class. They get spoken to kindly and with empathy and are sent back to class. No lessons are learned, and our problem continues to snowball. I know some will argue that there are other reasons why there is a staffing shortage, including COVID. I don’t want to generalize and say that is not the issue, because for some it definitely is. But a large reason why students are choosing to attend Pathfinder School of Innovation virtually, or are leaving the district all together, is because they feel unsafe in their “home” schools due to violence, bullying, and lack of discipline. A large reason why teachers and the poor bus drivers are leaving in droves, is because of the extreme behavior exhibited by our students that is met with silence, indifference, or even worse, the blame is turned back on us. We don’t believe we feel heard or supported by our administrators and district, and in turn, JCPS has become a toxic work environment for many staff members. I have spoken to friends who work at other schools around the district, schools that at one time felt safe, and where the adults in the building felt like they were in control. What they say now is that the students run the building, and they are just there to collect their pay check and get to retirement. How sad is that? That teachers who once held a high passion for teaching now feel like they are just trying to survive. Over the past 15 years, I have witnessed the shift in JCPS from the adults being in charge and running things, to some problem students beginning to hold certain schools hostage, to our modern problem of an entire generation of enabled, undisciplined students and parents holding an entire school district, city, and society hostage. Seriously, what is it going to take for not only our district, but society as a whole to recognize how bad things have gotten in public education? Students are already killing other students. And I’m not talking about mass shootings, I’m talking about gang violence or neighborhood violence that has now been allowed to leak into many schools where it never was before, where problems are exacerbated and perpetuated without swift and decisive intervention from school and district officials. What happens when a student eventually kills a teacher? There already has been a recent report in this country of an ELEMENTARY school child bringing a gun to school and shooting a teacher through the hand. What is it going to take?
  14. Possible Solutions: As I think I have made abundantly clear, I don’t think this time change proposal is going to solve the real underlying problems. Sure, it may solve the problem of decreasing the number of bus routes so that our students can possibly get to school or leave school on time, regardless of our massively understaffed bus drivers. But as I’ve mentioned, this will create a slew of new problems that will affect many people in the entire city, and will not solve the real problem. So what can we really do to exact real and lasting change? First, consider stopping busing, and go back to at least a hybrid of the neighborhood school model. And if the district doesn’t trust its own stakeholders to help put together a proposal, ask the MIT coders how this would affect bus routes, start times, and attendance. Secondly, discipline kids, both in school and out. Make alternative schools matter again. Every child has a right to free public education. That is irrefutable. But every child does not have the right to a free public education at the “better school” all the way across the city, where they are causing so many problems that they are negatively impacting the safety and learning of others in the building. The same goes for the buses. Dr. Pollio even alluded to this in his press conference. Free transportation to school can go away. And in my minimal research, I found that State and federal laws don’t require schools to provide transportation, except for students with disabilities. So if that is the case, and a student is misbehaving on the bus, they are no longer allowed to ride the bus. If the district feels obligated to provide them with another option, if they are old enough, give them TARC tickets. If they are not old enough, it should be the responsibility of their parents or guardians to get them to school. That is what is being asked of us with this new bus proposal anyway. It is up to the family to figure out how this is going to work. If misbehaving students were kicked off the bus, maybe bus monitors and bus drivers wouldn’t leave JCPS. Now, we can use, what I understand to be, a significant amount of money saved on busing to fill other buckets. Pay JCPS bus drivers and teachers more in general. Offer monetary incentives to bus drivers and teachers willing to work in these more difficult areas at the more difficult schools. But I also don’t believe we should offer more money to work in those schools and let that be the end of it. I know the district has identified difficult schools and areas, so let’s be a little more proactive in the recruitment, application, and interview processes in choosing the right candidates to work in those schools. Make the monetary incentive to work in these schools enough to attract a large number of applicants, but be deliberate in who is selected. Who will be good in these schools long term? There would probably still be enough money leftover to upgrade and update these schools, and make them more attractive, modern, and progressive for students and staff alike. Have MIT do the math and come up with an algorithm of that. How much money could be saved, where it could be allocated, and how that will positively affect buildings, students, and staff in our district. I think this next point is very important; instead of constantly playing catch up and trying to match what other “large districts” are doing around the country, we could lead the way in educational reform. Does it really matter if we are one of the only large districts in the country not doing staggered start times? No, it doesn’t. But instead of solving our own, not very unique problem, we are just playing catch up to what other districts are already doing. What if instead we addressed the real problem, discipline in and out of schools, and how that has affected school and bus staff numbers? Then other districts around the country could model their reform after us. Because let’s be honest, we’re not the only district with a discipline problem. It’s a nationwide, societal problem. In the end, no one asked me for my opinion. No one asked any of us who still work for JCPS, who stuck around despite everything continually going against us. No one asked us as parents of JCPS students, who are constantly impacted by these decisions made for us. No one asked us as active, invested members of the Louisville community. But the reality is that there is a lot more that needs to be addressed here than just solving the bus route transportation crisis. I know I speak for many JCPS employees, parents, guardians, and community members in saying that I hope the issues and possible solutions I have brought up do not fall on deaf ears. That at least we can be active participants in a conversation before this proposal is voted on and mandated. Thank you.