By Kent Oyler, President/CEO, Greater Louisville Inc.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (November 5, 2014) — So after one of the most contentious well publicized and important races in Kentucky history, the polls have closed, the ballots counted, and voters have spoken. And they chose Stephanie Horne, Lisa Wilner, Linda Duncan and Diane Porter.
Oh yeah, and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Mayor Greg Fisher won their elections as well (the former a bit closer than the latter two).
With all due respect for our returning senior senator, in the Louisville Metro, some might say that the most important elections this cycle involved the Jefferson County Public Schools School Board. And with a couple of new faces and a whole lot of new public awareness, meaningful progress on public education may now retake its rightful seat at the front of the policy bus. For too long, transformational education change has seemed too difficult, too soon, too bold, too much… You get it, somehow beyond our imaginations. So let’s get past the parochial thinking of the past and start thinking big, really big. Let’s start believing that our new school board will see though the changes we need so that someday soon people will move to Louisville for its public schools.
It can happen and it starts at the top. Good news is that we already have a progressive and reform-minded Superintendent in Dr. Donna Hargens. With a newly energized board behind her, the time has come to enact changes that will catapult JCPS rankings by tens of percentiles. So what to do?
A good place to start is with school-level leadership. It is high time the superintendent has the authority to get an A-team principal of her choosing in place at the head of every school. There are no outperforming schools that have underperforming principles just like there aren’t outperforming companies with underperforming CEOs. Get it right at the top and good things will follow. Some of this is local and some requires changes at the state level, but the new board should insist on change.
The School Board hired Dr. Hargens, so let her do her job and put the best team in place to execute the plan. And when her contract comes up for renewal in 2015, renew it and have her back. No, she doesn’t get a hall pass, and she wouldn’t expect one. But she does deserve colleagues on the Board with the conviction to make hard decisions that necessarily precede real progress.
And maybe it’s time to take a hard look at cost, both in terms of purchasing practices and personnel. That was an issue in the audit, and deserves attention. Many outsiders, including me, believe that JCPS leaves money on the table when it comes to buying goods and services. Lots of reasons perhaps, but no good excuses. It’s time to bring in some outside cost reduction pros to help the purchasing pros inside JCPS get the best deals.
And then let’s look at the bureaucratic overhead, which certainly appears to be excessive. How many six-figure staffers does the system really need? A top goal should certainly be to become one of the most administration-efficient systems in the country. JCPS is a big system. Size is supposed to breed efficiencies of scale, let’s scale back on the number of folks not directly educating the students. And if we are looking for benchmarks, the new board members might want to ask themselves why on-average it costs over twice as much per student for public education as it does in our local parochial school system. Hmmm.
So there is much to be done and we now have some new folks on-board (sic) to do it. After decades of study the solutions are clear and action can rule the day. OK new JCPS School Board. Just do it!
P.S. A few props for those that helped highlight the importance of the JCPS School Board elections are due. Thanks to the folks with the Business Leaders in Education and Greater Louisville Inc. staff who interviewed most all the candidates and posted results on GLI’s web site www.support4jcps.com. That web site had over 5,500 unique visitors and 15,000 page views. Thanks to all the candidates for taking time to interview and respond to questions. There are several candidates not elected that should find a way to stay involved with public education; you were great. Thanks to the incumbents for years of service and a passion for schools. Thanks to our media friends, particularly the CJ and WDRB for providing extended coverage of these races. And thanks to the voters for paying attention despite the din from other high-profile races.