Richard Brown: Candidate for JCPS Board - District 5

Richard Brown: Candidate for JCPS Board - District 5

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

The numbers don't lie. It is a mixed bag: bona fide traditional magnet schools are going in the right direction. Some well managed, parent supported schools like Auburndale are also doing well. Schools like Semple and Olmsted North, in my district, are going backwards. District 5 is going backwards. Proof? Middle schools! 3/4 are ranked in the 10th percentile of KY schools or lower. The other middle school is ranked in the 20th percentile. Mrs. Duncan says in her mailings that she supports good schools. She's had nine years to support these schools, and apparently it's not working. I will do better; I will be more involved, attending SBDM meetings, having town halls or other meetings once a month, rotating at the three high schools. I will go to Frankfort on behalf of the students, not in the service of special interests. I will fight for my district. My opponent will say "early childhood education" as she has said in many of her documented statements. She's had 9 years to make a difference, and the middle schools are still not serving our students. That must change. Overall...stagnant, change is too slow. Other districts, like just south of us, are leaving us in the dust.

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

I've served as a shop steward, representing workers. I'm not afraid of being in the spot light. I have twenty years of professional experience including labor relations, public sector budgeting, fund accounting and personnel. My wife of 17 years and I are parents of two teenagers, and a 22 month old. I have a vested interest in the success of our schools. My opponent will say she has been a teacher and a principal. According to KRS 160.290, that is not the duties of a board member. The duties are to provide "general control and management." Theo, I am a manager. That's my profession. Our current managers/board members: 45 audit findings, 200 recommendations, failing schools (documented), under performing schools for over a decade, all in Mrs. Duncan's district, on Mrs. Duncan's watch, by either her actions or her apathy. The numbers dont' lie. I will do better.

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?

While serving on Johnson Traditional Middle Schools SBDM, I tried to compare the traditional middle schools, the teachers and many administrators were rabidly against it. They would make comments about "these kids are different than those kids", and "we don't want to be like them." Doesn't Microsoft see what Apple is doing? Doesn't GE (now Electrolux) study LG? There's a term for it in the private sector: competitive intelligence. I would not say we are in competition; we need to use bench-marking because other districts, similar to us, may face the similar challenges, and they may have discovered wonderfully successful solutions that would could clone without having to reinvent the wheel. With that said, what do our benchmarks tell us? The numbers don't lie: compared to our these preliminary benchmarks, we are top heavy. What to do: cut, cut, cut. Example: On Mr. Edelen's audit, the IT department was beat up pretty bad. I think our superintendent needs to consider some personnel changes in that department. If we do not have a database for contracts, especially banking contracts, I think we may have an accountability issue, and other personnel may better serve our board. I want an internal audit that works for me, the board, with our interests and the voters (who are parents and the taxpayers) paramount.

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?

Harry Truman: "The buck stops here." I think that's a cop out. If you don't understand something, ASK! I don't buy it. Everyone on that board has advanced degrees, and state law mandates financial training once a year for board members. And, nothing is keeping them from taking a fund accounting class on their own. UofL offers it, and as a board member, I'm confident that the Provost would approve. No excuse.

As a board member, I'm going to ask for detail when I see jumps of more than 1% in any category: justify why I am approving an increase. UofL has a budget workshop once a year before the final vote. Maybe, the problem is that the board for a $1.4 billion operation is basically working pro bono. I have the experience; I have the knowledge; I'm up for the challenge.

5. The school board recently voted to approve a budget that held property taxes flat. Do you support that decision, or would you have voted to decrease or increase property taxes? Depending on your decision, what would you propose to cut, or what would you propose to spend the addition money on?

I would have voted against the teacher pay raise, AND the tax increase.

I've worked directly on a multi-million dollar budget, a 9 figure budget. Don't believe me: ask anyone that works in the pubic sector, or in a budget office at a university: you do NOT fund perpetual salary increases using one time cash! The current board authorized salary increases for teachers this year from a one-time cash reserve, because they wanted JCTA's support and didn't want to raise taxes in an election year. Those that voted for it received JCTA's endorsement. Those that voted against it did not. Don't you find that interesting? JCPS pays for McKim's salary and health/welfare. That's around $110K a year (estimate). That savings by JCTA goes directly into their Better Schools Kentucky PAC. Over an eight year period, that's almost $900k in tax money used to cover a legitimate union officer salary. That allows JCTA to then use that cost savings for political purposes, often to re-elect board members.

I hear at every meeting "we spend too much money on busing kids."

Parents do not send their kids TO magnet schools; parents send their kids AWAY from failing neighborhood schools.

For the record, I am not for going back exclusively to the old fashioned school boundary system. I would not support a return to the days of "black" and "white" schools, ever, no matter what, unconditionally. I am against that as a matter of principle, and am confident that it would not survive a legal challenge. I want to reduce bus rides by making all schools attractive to parents; that would greatly reduce the demand to bus children across town, but I do not want to take that option away. I support schools that reflect the diversity of our community, as I feel that introducing and supporting diversity is part of making our children college and career ready. To do otherwise would be harmful to every student, in one way or another, and would then harm the community as a whole. I feel that we must proceed and succeed, as one community, together.

I also support transforming two elementary schools west of I-65 into bona fide traditional magnet elementary schools. Why? Demand. There are waiting lists to get into traditional elementary schools (Carter and Shaffner). Why our board has not acted on this demand from customers is a failure in leadership.

My point: I've looked at the budget: it's very similar to the budget at UofL in its layout. The salaries Mr. Edelen speaks of is buried in the individuals lines of schools and programs. I'd like to discuss with the JCPS legal counsel the options. Is a reduction in pay possible for some? If so, how much will it actually save? Yes, I want to deflate the bubble at the top, but I feel there is more to be found out in the district. It will take a fine-tooth comb to find the fat, but considering the size of our system, I'm confident that a great deal can be found. We need to look at outdated business processes and use of technology to make tasks more efficient. Where are we over staffed, where jobs can be eliminated or combined? It will not be easy. I'm sorry, but there is no quick answer here. If someone has a quick fix, I think they underestimate the challenge: the culture. People are not going to hand over money without a fight. I'm not afraid of the challenge; I'm ready to dive in, but I'm also not blinded by the scope. That elephant will have to be swallowed one bite at a time. An internal audit operation reporting to the board would better locate those cost savings. But, it falls on the board to act upon those objective, un-influenced recommendations. And, I'd work diligently to find that fat, and propose trimming/reallocating where ever possible.

Additional money? Where to you want to start? Replenish the cash reserve; books; eliminate school fees; early childhood education; security improvements for schools; infrastructure; after school programs; tax reductions; all of these are options. Theo, it would not take long to find ways to use the money on legitimate things. I'm not going to pretend I have all of the answers; that's why I want to meet with others.

Listen; learn; labor.