Friday, September 14, 2012

Jefferson Co School board races demand attention

This from The Courier-Journal:
If people in Jefferson County aren’t paying attention to the upcoming school board election, the time to start was yesterday.

Actually, make that Sunday — when The Courier-Journal provided a detailed look at 15 candidates running for three open seats. The report should serve as a jarring wake-up call for anyone feeling complacent about public education in this community.

At least six of the candidates are running with a goal of scrapping the current student diversity plan and returning to neighborhood schools, guaranteeing students the right to attend the public school closest to their homes. Five of the 15 candidates support a diversity plan, which considers factors such as race, income and educational levels in making student assignments.

The remaining four are undecided or did not respond for the Sunday piece by Courier-Journal reporter Antoinette Konz.

With three of the seven school board seats on the ballot, it’s apparent that this election will influence whether the community moves ahead with a diversity plan that offers students a fair shot at success and achievement or whether Jefferson County returns to an insular and segregated school system of the past.

Voters who live in the districts up for grabs, need to start taking a close look at the candidates, and not just vote for whichever names they see on yard signs. Many of the 15 bear closer scrutiny.
For example, do voters in the mid-county’s 2nd District really want to elect a guy who was such a rabid opponent of court-ordered busing that he changed his name to George “Stop the Bus” Tolhurst — and who also wants to end fluoridation of public water?

Do they want people with longstanding past ties to the school system and possibly past baggage, such as former high school principal James Sexton, or former school system administrator Martin Bell, both running in southeast Jefferson County’s 7th District?

Do voters in southwestern Jefferson County’s 4th District understand they have six candidates running for school board and that just a very few votes could determine the outcome of that race?
And do voters realize that each of the three districts has candidates who glibly endorse a return to the neighborhood schools of yesteryear although — philosophical objections aside — yesteryear no longer exists because of major population shifts?

Several members who remain on the board — Debbie Wesslund, Linda Duncan and Carol Ann Haddad — traveled to Frankfort last year to offer compelling arguments against an ill-advised Senate bill that would have forced Jefferson County to return to a neighborhood school system.

(They, along with board Chairwoman Diane Porter, support the district diversity plan.)

Foremost was their concern that the bill, which failed, would return Jefferson County to a system of segregated schools. But a practical and compelling argument is that because of major population changes of the past several decades, there simply aren’t enough schools in some areas and too many in others.

A sudden return to neighborhood schools could result in the absurd outcome of closing schools in some neighborhoods and forcing costly construction or expansion of schools in others. Some people are grousing about a recent tax hike by the school system. How do they think Jefferson County would finance an abrupt school construction boom?

School board members also must confront other controversial issues. Should the evaluation of the superintendent be public or private? What should be done about failing schools? How can the school system improve student achievement and should teacher pay be tied to student success?

All of these are serious questions that deserve significant voter attention.

Most of the candidates appear to have strong opinions on these and other issues. Voters may find them online at or at other sites, such as candidate web pages or Facebook pages.

Aspiring board members will be invited to appear at candidate forums within their districts as the Nov. 6 election approaches, forums which are open to the public.

Yet, school board races tend to be ho-hum events, not high on the public radar.

It is very important that voters figure out whether they live in the 2nd, 4th or 7th District and, if so, which candidate they prefer and why.

And we’re not just talking public school parents here. Public education affects nearly every facet of the community, including the workforce, business recruitment, prosperity and independence from social services and public assistance.

Voters need to get involved, get informed and vote on Nov. 6 for a school board candidate who reflects what they want this community to become.

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