State takeover of JCPS: What the audit says and the district has done

(Photo: Marty Pearl/Special to Courier Journal)
, Louisville Courier JournalPublished 11:27 a.m. ET May 7, 2018 
In recommending a state takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky’s education chief pointed to 10 main problem areas.
Those problems, interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis says, show a pattern of widespread dysfunction continues to exist and can only be fixed through full-blown state intervention.
But critics say he failed to recognize the progress the district has made since the audit began 14 months ago, including changes made under the leadership of the elected school board and new Superintendent Marty Pollio.
So what were the problem areas? And what, if anything, has JCPS done to correct its problems since the audit began?
Here’s enough information to get you started:
1. Planning
What did the audit find?
The audit identified issues with the organization of the district’s central office, including unclear roles and responsibilities and poor communication. This had a negative impact on JCPS’ ability to support schools and accomplish districtwide goals, the audit found.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
Under Pollio, the district commissioned its own review of the central office in 2017. That report found that though JCPS has a “wealth of talent,” there is widespread dysfunction in how the district’s departments communicate and work with each other.
Earlier this year, Pollio proposed a massive restructuring of the district’s central office based on the report. The changes include eliminating 11 vacant jobs while adding and restructuring others.
Related: JCPS takeover: What we know about the people deciding district’s fate
The JCPS board has approved most of the proposed changes and will vote on the remaining changes at its meeting Tuesday night.
In his 16-page letter recommending a takeover, Lewis acknowledged the progress the district is making, writing that Pollio “has led the board and the district toward addressing many of the organizational coherence, communications, and culture deficiencies found during the April 2017 onsite review.”
But issues remain, Lewis said, adding that he did not believe JCPS can solve its problems on its own.
2. Operational Support
What did the audit find?
According to the nearly 90-page audit, JCPS has pressing facilities needs but has not developed a plan for how to use its bonding capacity to pay for renovations or construction. The audit faulted the school board for agreeing to a much smaller property tax increase in 2011 than was available, ultimately limiting the amount of revenue the district has been able to put toward its facilities needs.
The audit also found the district has some problems with fiscal management at the school level, including issues following protocols for the use of credit cards and when requesting purchases.
Additionally, the audit found issues with the district’s transportation system, such as a lack of a districtwide discipline policy for misbehavior on buses. JCPS also doesn’t have a process to analyze how efficient and effective its bus routes are, the audit said.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
The JCPS board recently approved a plan to reshuffle several schools and programs forr the start of the 2018-19 school year. The plan, Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor has said, will enable the district to become more efficient by maximizing its available space. In turn, JCPS will be able to provide better services for some of its most vulnerable students, including its burgeoning English language learner population, Raisor has said.
Moving forward, the district’s facility planning will also include construction and renovation, Pollio has said. The JCPS facilities committee is holding a special meeting on Wednesday.
Kentucky governor: Matt Bevin is confident that a JCPS takeover would win in court
As for the district’s transportation system, Raisor has said that the system is efficient as it can be given the human resources available. Faced with competition from other local transportation companies, such as UPS, the district is dealing with an ongoing bus driver shortage. To combat the shortage, the district boosted driver pay this year.
Additionally, JCPS board member Chris Brady said last week that the district has routing software that allows it to analyze bus routes, contrary to the audit’s findings.
3. Instructional Management
What did the audit find?
The main instructional concerns noted in the audit were inconsistency in how the district works with schools to “ensure equity and rigor” in curriculum and in how schools use data to guide teachers’ lessons.
The audit also found that schools on the verge of being given priority status — an indication that they are among the state’s lowest-performing — did not improve in student achievement after receiving additional support.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
Last July, Pollio tapped Carmen Coleman, an associate clinical professor at the University of Kentucky, to step in as the district’s acting chief academic officer. The district hired her to the position permanently last week.
Coleman has been integral to the district’s new “Backpack of Skills” initiative, which will track students’ success skills — both academic and nonacademic — through each year of their schooling. Teachers will then be able to use this data when deciding how to support individual students, according to district plans.
Under Pollio, JCPS also has invested $1 million into online math and reading assessments, enabling the district to determine which skills students have mastered and where they need more support.
Additionally, the district is on track to approve a plan that will use research-based strategies to improve racial equity. The plan will seek to tackle a number of inequities, including barriers to advanced coursework faced by students of color and learning materials that don’t recognize the contributions of minority groups.
4. Physical Restraint and Seclusion of Students
What did the audit find?
Early audit findings uncovered issues surrounding the district’s use of physical restraint and seclusion that required immediate attention. The state found district staff members were often using restraint and seclusion when a child’s behavior did not warrant it. Staff were also using improper restraint techniques, at times leading to student injury.
An earlier review of the district found JCPS was underreporting its use of restraint and seclusion, telling the state it had used the methods less than 200 times during the 2014-15 school year when the number was actually more than 4,400 times.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
In September, Pollio was formally notified of the audit findings, and the district has been working with the state under a corrective action plan since the fall.
The district has clarified its policies related to the methods; ensured each school has staff members trained in “Safe Crisis Management;” checked schools’ restraint and seclusion data monthly; and created a new notice for parents that will inform them when physical restraint or seclusion has been used on their child, as well as information regarding their rights.
5. Implementation of IDEA
What did the audit find?
Like all public school districts, JCPS must comply with the federal special education law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. During its management audit, the state discovered several ways in which JCPS was in violation of that law or state regulations related to it.
For example, the audit found JCPS does not provide a full “continuum” of educational settings for students with special needs and that it lacked a system to ensure that it was identifying students in need of special education services in a consistent and timely fashion.
Opinion: State takeover of JCPS is a great idea to counter failing schools
By failing to comply with the law, the district risks losing $28 million in federal funding for special education each year.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
Because of the severity of this issue, the district was required to enter a corrective action plan last fall. Since then, the district has provided extensive training on the deficiencies identified in the audit and has hired more staff to support special education students.
JCPS also is creating new classes for elementary school students with emotional or behavioral disabilities and has hired a specialist to support schools in placing students with behavior issues in the correct settings.
6. Career and Technical Education
What did the audit find?
The district offers career and technical education programs at its high schools in areas including health and medicine, engineering, business and communication. The district pays for these programs, in part, through federal grant funding.
The state found that the programs were not compliant with state and federal law. Those issues put $1.2 million in annual funding from the federal government at risk.
Specifically, the state cited JCPS for inaccuracies in its program data and its documentation of the programs’ career pathways. The state also found that schools lacked staff members with the knowledge and authority to oversee the programs.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
JCPS was required to enter a corrective action plan with the state last fall to fix issues with its programming.
Opinion: It’s time to speak up to stop a state takeover of JCPS
Since then, the district has designated program coordinators at each of its high schools and has provided additional training and oversight. The district is also expanding its high school academies initiative and wants to sign more than 80 partnerships with local businesses by next school year.
Additionally, JCPS is working with the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics to obtain and analyze data about what students do after they complete high school.
7. Implementation of
Teacher Certification Requirements
What did the audit find?
The final audit included a state investigation into the district’s use of noncertified staff. According to that report, completed in August 2017 by the Office of Education Accountability, JCPS was breaking state law by letting noncertified staff teach classes.
The investigation was launched after the state received a complaint that instructors and teaching assistants were leading classes. Under state law, only teachers who are certified in a subject can teach it.
Though this practice was first uncovered under former Superintendent Donna Hargens, the state concluded the issues are “systemic,” Lewis wrote.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
Shortly after stepping in as interim superintendent last July, Pollio made changes to ensure only certified teachers were leading classes.
Background: Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis visits JCPS as he considers state takeover
“We follow the law — that is a legal requirement,” he said last year. “Anyone providing instruction has to be certified.”
Pollio also agreed to have school administrators receive updated training on the policies and procedures surrounding placement of noncertified staff.
Story continues below video.
8. Implementation of Head Start
What did the audit find?
Last summer the federal government issued a stinging report on the district’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, federally funded initiatives to help low-income families prepare children 5 years old and younger for school.
According to the report, which was included in the JCPS audit, physical abuse, humiliation and neglect were pervasive in the district’s Head Start programs, jeopardizing student safety and federal funding.
In one incident, a 3-year-old boy at Tully Elementary was pouring his milk onto his fruit, the report said. When he wouldn’t stop, the teacher scooped the damp fruit off the table, wrapped her arms and legs around the child, and forced him to eat the food.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
Pollio fired at least seven employees mentioned in the Head Start report.
“When it comes to employees and behavior that is improper, there is no tolerance,” Pollio said in a statement last October.
Around that time, the district also entered a corrective action plan with the federal government to address the issues with its Head Start programs.
How did we get here?: What to know about the state takeover of JCPS
According to a JCPS progress report, the district has initiated regular reviews for Head Start programs with challenging student behaviors. Head Start staff have also received training in how to de-escalate behavior and in how to work with students who have experienced trauma.
To address staffing challenges, JCPS is working with its high school career academies to create opportunities for students to graduate with a credential in early childhood education.
9. Implementation of Internal Investigations
What did the audit find?
The audit included a 2016 report on the district’s internal investigations department. That report, produced by a former FBI agent at the request of a top district official, found widespread dysfunction in the district’s investigations, including the practice of allowing abusive employees to return to working with kids without having received any disciplinary action.
Investigators’ conclusions “are sometimes nonsensical,” wrote Carl Christiansen, the retired FBI agent commissioned to write the report.
Column: If you look for it, you’ll see good things are happening in Kentucky education
He noted, for instance, that if an allegation was that a teacher slapped a student in the face but investigators found the employee instead hit the student on the arm, investigators “would determine the allegation to be unsubstantiated. They typically do not address the more important issue of whether the teacher actions were acceptable.”
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
The district has provided its investigators with additional training on new laws and regulations as well as best practices, district spokeswoman Allison Martin told Courier-Journal in January. Two employees in the office have completed paralegal training, which will help with compiling investigations, Martin said.
The district has also changed its processes to ensure that an employee’s entire personal history is considered when determining discipline against employees.
10. Personnel Administration
What did the audit find?
The audit revealed major issues with staff training, finding that many district- and school-based staff are not prepared to perform their professional responsibilities “in an effective and efficient” manner. In his letter recommending a takeover, Lewis said staff are not trained in “key safety areas” such as restraint and seclusion.
One of the obstacles to properly training staff is a “lack of professional development resulting from provisions” in the district’s contract with the Jefferson County teachers union, Lewis wrote.
Has JCPS done anything to fix this? 
As noted, the district says it has increased training in the use of physical restraint and seclusion across its schools.
JCPS provided crisis management training to 125 security monitors this spring and plans to have all monitors trained by the start of the 2018-19 school year. The district is also updating its contracts with local police departments to ensure school resource officers receive crisis training.
The district’s contract with the local union is set to expire at the end of June, and the two parties are expected to begin negotiating a new contract soon.
Reporters Allison Ross, Tom Novelly and Justin Sayers contributed to this story.

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