Linda Duncan: Candidate for JCPS School Board - District 5

Linda Duncan: Candidate for JCPS School Board - District 5
Linda Duncan (Source: JCPS)
Linda Duncan (Source: JCPS)

Linda Duncan has been a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education since 2006, having served as Vice-Chair in 2010.

A 1970 graduate of the University of Kentucky where she also earned her Masters Degree and a 1989 graduate of the University of Louisville's Rank I program in Administration and Supervision, Linda taught English and social studies in grades 7-10 at Fairdale High School; then she taught English grades 9-12 for ten years at Southern High School before returning to Fairdale as assistant principal for the last ten years of her career with Jefferson County Public Schools.

During her service as assistant principal, she chaired the School Climate Committee, the School Attendance Committee, and the Dress Code Committee while serving on the Budget Committee and the Curriculum Committee.

1. What is the biggest issue facing JCPS? Is it a district trending in the right direction, wrong direction, or stagnant?

The biggest issue facing JCPS is funding. State support has dwindled from 54 percent of our budget to 32 percent since 1994. Cuts to School Safety, Extended School Services, Professional Development, textbooks, and FRYSC's have eaten into local funds. Inadequate funding of English as a Second Language students and Early Childhood Ed continue to drain local funds, ESL state support being $2.4 million while JCPS is paying $12.1 million. Unfunded mandates, including teacher and staff salary increases and rising board contributions to retired teachers' health insurance require local taxpayer support. Underfunded mandates from the federal IDEA and Title I programs only provide 19 percent funding, far below the promised 40 percent funding, leaving local taxpayers to make up the costs. Even with a $1.4 billion budget, we are underfunded.

2. How are you best qualified to make decisions for district with more than 100,000 students?

I am especially well-qualified to help oversee this district. My 21 years of experience as a classroom teacher (grades 7-12) and 10 years of experience as a high school administrator provided me with a bird's-eye view of the everyday challenges of educating a diverse and increasingly poor student population.

I have 8.5 years of experience on this school board, having hired and evaluated two superintendents, served as Vice-chair, Chair of both the Finance Committee and the Policy Committee, as well as serving on the Facilities, Calendar, and Wellness Committees. For the past six years I have represented JCPS as a Director-at-large on the Kentucky School Boards Association where I have experienced 244 hours of training in areas such as school finance, legal issues, implementation of the Common Core, and superintendent evaluation.

Commissioner Holliday appointed me to a three-year term on the Principal Growth and Effectiveness Task Force creating the new Principal Evaluation structure, and this past July I was re-appointed by Governor Beshear to my second term on the State Curriculum, Assessment, and Accountability Council. My experience and training have prepared me well to help oversee the initiatives this district is pursuing.

3. What is your position on state Auditor Adam Edelen's recent assertion that JCPS is a top-heavy district with too many highly-paid administrators? What, if anything, would you do to address this?

Mr. Edelen's conclusion was based on three-year-old data. Today, 77.6 percent of the General Fund goes to support instruction in our schools, not into supporting administrators in Central Office. $4.4 million for central administration salaries has been cut since 2012, every year because those positions were either eliminated or left unfilled. Since Mr. Edelen did not interview our CFO, his figures were not corrected by her.

Administrators' salaries are products of the teachers' salary scale, which is higher than the benchmark districts he used. That plus increases for degrees earned and added certifications plus more days worked and percent increases mandated by the Legislature have contributed to the rise in salaries of all of our employees, including administrators.

Until we figure another way to give salary increases, outside of percent increases, salary gaps will grow between those earning more and those at the front end of experience with JCPS. I would suggest we cap salaries for administrative positions and give lump-sum increases instead of percent increases. Convincing Legislators not to give percent increases that local districts must fund is another story.

4. What is your position on Edelen's assertion that the school board didn't properly understand the district's budget before voting on it? What, if anything, would you do to address this?

No one ever asked me specific questions about our budget. It is basically a pie chart. We have a very clear picture of where our money is going to support the needs of our students. The role of the board is to examine the superintendent's budget recommendations, question what is unclear, try to influence the recommendations if we think the superintendent is overlooking some detail, approve the superintendent's final recommendation, evaluate whether or not the budget achieves our intended results, and hold the superintendent accountable for those results

Mr. Edelen mistakenly shared that the school board is the "manager" of the budget. The board does not manage anything in the two nights a month we meet. The board hires a CFO to manage the budget of this district, which she does in consultation with the superintendent. Mr. Edelen does not understand the financial oversight role of the board. His misconceptions need to be addressed. As a side note, this school board spends 9 percent of its time discussing budget issues, compared to 12 percent that the average board spends discussing the budget. This is not all that we oversee.

5. The school board recently voted to approve a budget that held property taxes flat. Why did you support that decision in lieu of voting to increase or decrease property taxes?

Because state legislators refuse to raise revenue to support education in Kentucky, the burden of raising taxes falls on the shoulders of local school board members. Other districts that took the 4 percent increase allowed by law did so because they had to in order to avoid lay-offs. We have a healthy fund balance of $50 million in reserves, we have put away the $52 million we need to meet two payrolls, beyond even the 2 percent required by law. Spending down our reserves does not hurt us for this year. We need to spend money given for our students today and not keep accumulating reserves meant for the students we serve now.