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3 seats up for grabs on Jefferson County Public School Board; Hear from the candidates

The seats for Districts 2, 4 and 7 will be the ballot this November.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The JCPS Board of Education has seven seats. Terms are four years long, and this election three of those seats are up for election, including districts two, four, and seven. 

Credit: JCPS

Incumbent Joseph Marshall is running unopposed for the District Four seat.

Running for District Two are incumbent Dr. Chris Kolb and challenger Jody Hurt. 

Current District Seven board member Chris Brady is not seeking reelection. Sarah McIntosh and Tammy Stewart are running to fill that seat. 

Tammy Stewart did not answer our request for an interview. 

Answers to the following questions have been edited for length and clarity. 

Credit: Chris Kolb
Chris Kolb

Dr. Chris Kolb was first elected to the Board of Education in 2016. He is a parent of two JCPS students and works as a professor of social sciences at Spalding University.

Why did you want to run for the JCPS Board of Education?

I think we've made a lot of progress over the last four years, but we still have a lot of work to do. My first term on the school board has been filled with many different crises, from the state takeover effort to fending off all of Matt Bevin’s harmful policies, and now dealing with the coronavirus. There hasn't been as much opportunity as I was hoping to really work on the big strategic changes that I think are really going to make JCPS the model for education in urban America. We've made a lot of progress with Dr Pollio. I think that Dr. Pollio needs board members, like me, who support him, and are able to work well with him to meet his very ambitious goals.

Are you for or against the JCPS tax increase currently on the ballot?

I'm a huge supporter of the funding increase for JCPS. For too long, we have left our students underfunded compared to other kids in Kentucky. Our kids are going to be competing for jobs with kids that right now receive many more resources than our kids do. It's just not fair to put our kids behind the eight ball like that. We've unfortunately, in Jefferson County, let our school buildings and other facilities fall into a state of disrepair. We haven't built a new high school since 1968. Meanwhile, places like Lexington are building new schools at a much faster rate than we are. I feel like our kids deserve 21st century learning spaces as well. The state government has cut funding to us 16%, [the] federal government continues to underfund things that they promised to provide for our kids. So there's nobody coming to our rescue with more money, we're just going to have to do it ourselves.

Right now students have been doing NTI since the beginning of the school year. Do you think students should be able to return to school in person right now?

I want kids back in school as soon as possible. I'm the parent of an elementary school child myself so I see every day the challenges within NTI. There's absolutely no question that kids would be doing much better, we would all be doing much better, if they could be in school.

Unfortunately, the local school system does not have the ability to control the rate of community transmission of COVID-19. We need the mayor and the governor and the federal government to do a much better job of controlling the spread. Until they do that, there's really not much hope for getting kids back in school.

It's just too dangerous right now. Even though kids don't typically get as sick or die as often, they are clearly transmitters of the virus. So if we put 100,000 kids back in school, it's going to just cause the rate of COVID to explode in Jefferson County to an even higher level than it already is. It's not fair to our teachers frankly to ask them to risk their lives to do their jobs, while the rate of COVID-19 is so high.

Why should people vote for you?

Over the past four years, we've taken JCPS from crisis, from being on the brink of collapse to new promise. We've got a lot of work to do, but we are clearly headed in the right direction. One of the first things I did on the board in 2017 was secure a change of leadership, change of superintendent, and I haven't heard anybody in the city that thinks we made the wrong decision in hiring Dr. Pollio. I was a big part of that. I've been a big part of the progress that we've made. We're seeking transformational change, and we've got work left to do. I'd like to end my term on the board as soon as I can, but I'd like to make sure that the work that we've started comes to fruition. But before I do that, I know that we've got a lot of work left to do and I'll ask for people's support so that we can continue that work.

Credit: Jody Hurt for JCPS Board Facebook
Jody Hurt

Jody Hurt is a musician and entrepreneur. He currently has three children at JCPS schools. 

Why did you want to run for the JCPS Board of Education?

I think we're in a moment where people are more engaged in politics. And my philosophy is basically that if you want to be involved in things, you should run for something.

So, not because I had some wholesale disapproval approval of Dr. Kolb's performance. I believe that there are ideas that I would bring to the table that he would not. And there are concerns that I have…that he wouldn't be focusing on that I would like to present to people, for them to consider. And that's really what drives me to run for things rather than having some sweeping agenda or thinking that somebody's not doing a great job.

Are you for or against the JCPS tax increases currently on the ballot?

I'm going to vote for the tax increase myself. I was very critical of how they did it. For a board to make that decision without having done a large PR push in the middle of a pandemic was a step that I believe actually hurt the credibility of the institution. Because it seemed like something was being forced or something was being done in another world where there wasn't a pandemic going on where people weren't out of their jobs. But personally I'm happy to vote for the tax increase I'm happy to encourage people to do the same.

Right now students have been doing NTI since the beginning of the school year. Do you think students should be able to return to school in person right now?

I think students should be able to, but I'm not sure who would teach them. I have four kids. Three of them are at home doing NTI every day. And it's hard. There is no world in which we all pictured ourselves doing 24/7 parenting and trying to help people do their NTI. I don't see any way to get students back into schools and teachers back into schools, safely before the vaccine is readily available. And that's a hard statement to make, and I recognize that's where I'm at. Whenever they do open schools, every parent will have the opportunity to not go. Every parent will have the ability to say we are going to continue doing online learning.

Why should people vote for you?

They should vote for me because the first thing that I would want to do as a board member is to expand the board. I want to at least double the size of the board, increase the accountability and the…input in the board. I would prefer local bottom up decisions, than system wide decisions. I heavily prefer local schools making decisions that reflect their values and their needs and their community's needs and values. I prefer that to the board, saying for 100,000 students, that we have these certain set of values.

Credit: Sarah McIntosh
Sarah McIntosh

Sarah McIntosh has been an educator for two decades, 16 in JCPS as a middle and high school social studies teacher. She has two children in JCPS.

Why did you want to run for the JCPS Board of Education?

When I found out that Chris Brady was not going to seek reelection it came up in conversation among some colleagues and friends who encouraged me to run. As I considered it, it seemed like the next logical step in public school advocacy to take on a leadership role because I do have experience in the classroom but also as a parent. I think that those are two very important lenses through which to view the curriculum and budget and just all the different priorities that we have to take a look at. [I] also have the experience and educational background with school leadership and budgeting and policy and school law that is so important, because sometimes there are things that we want to do, but we also have to understand the processes by which those things can occur, and all the different layers that go into that. Whether it's federal statutes and state regulations and things like that.

Are you for or against the JCPS tax increase currently on the ballot?

I personally voted in favor of the increase because I understand the needs of our community. A lot of kids are going to come back to us needing additional resources and support, and that usually comes in the form of hiring additional personnel and that's going to take financial resources. I've also worked in the buildings. I know the mold, I know the electrical issues and HVAC issues and things like that happening within our buildings. I think a lot of times when people look at the overall budget of JCPS and they see that it's over a billion dollars, that's a staggering number. But I also understand that $25 million dollars is already going to the water company for the water bill, and that we're paying out millions of dollars a year…I think I last calculation is about $132 million just to turn on the lights and turn on the faucets and make sure that the buildings have lightbulbs and toilet paper and things like that. There's so much that goes into operating a district this size that I think it's important to be able to understand how that breaks down.

I say all of that to say we are in need, as a district. And when we compare our facilities and the resources we’re able to offer our students to some of our adjoining districts and those throughout the state…I think that it's obvious that we need that revenue.

That said, I understand why some people have concerns and why financially it's going to create a burden for some families. So we'll wait and see if that happens on November 3, and then we'll move forward with the best plan possible for our students, depending on that outcome.

Right now students have been doing NTI since the beginning of the school year. Do you think students should be able to return to school in person right now?

I think our youngest learners probably can be in the classroom. I'm living it right there with everybody. I have a kindergartener and a fifth grader who are doing NTI at home, and I know the demands that it's putting on families. I've had to sacrifice career opportunities in order to stay home with my children to be able to do this. And so, I'm fully aware of the impact and what it's taken for families to make this work. I also see what our educators are going through. I'm hearing their stories - everything from kindergarten teachers through high school, and how much additional work it's creating for them in terms of trying to meet the needs of their students.

I do think our youngest learners could probably go back as long as everything is in place that we need. The proper PPE, that we have all of the resources that we need, the materials that we need to properly clean and sanitize the buildings and keep everybody safe.

Why should people vote for you?

Honestly, it does go beyond experience. I know that that is, I think, my strongest point…Anyone who has worked with me or known me for any length of time knows that I am not easily bullied. I'm not going to just go along with crowd, that I ask tough questions and I'm willing to stand up and speak out when necessary. But I'm also not so stubborn to think that I know everything. I'm willing to listen to the community, to the parents, to the experts, and make informed decisions by bringing all of those different voices together.

If you would like to see which district your address falls under, you can find out here.

►Contact reporter Rose McBride at rmcbride@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter.