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JCPS Board of Education challenging controversial new law limiting powers

They say sections of the bill would put restrictions and requirements on the board that aren’t placed on any other school board in Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Jefferson County Board of Education is challenging a Kentucky law that would strip power from the board and give control over to the superintendent.

The JCPS Board filed the lawsuit with Jefferson Circuit Court on Monday, challenging the constitutionality and seeking to block portions of Senate Bill 1, set to take effect on July 14.

The board's lawyer, David Tachau, said sections of the bill put restrictions and requirements on the board that aren’t placed on any other school board in Kentucky.

Tachau said that makes SB 1 unconstitutional. 

“The state constitution prevents what’s called special legislation where you just have laws that apply to only one locality or entity," he said. "So this is pretty clearly a violation.”

The suit says SB1 contains five different sections that apply only to Jefferson County. 

The bill prohibits the board from meeting more than once a month, regardless of any emergency. It also requires supermajority voting standards.

Former JCPS Board member Sam Corbett said typically, superintendents are able to get a majority of board members to come to a consensus anyway. 

“Its pretty rare you see and 3 to 4, or 5 to 2, but there are some issues that can be pretty contentious," he said. 

Corbett believes the board and its lawyers have a legitimate argument before the court. 

“Should JCPS have to play by a different set of rules. I think the elected school board would say no," he said. “The fact that this is included in the legislation isn’t a real big surprise and I would suggest in turn the lawsuit isn’t a big surprise.”

“The elected board of the largest school district in the state should not be subject to special and significant legislative overreach that restricts our ability to uphold our constitutional oaths of office,” Diane Porter, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, wrote in a news release. “The taxpayers of Jefferson County deserve to have elected school board members overseeing their schools in the same way as every other Kentucky school district. It’s unfortunate that we are forced to turn to the courts to right the wrongs the Kentucky Legislature has enacted against this board, the citizens, and students that we represent.”

Jason Glass, the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Glass would be charged with reporting violations of SB 1 to prosecutors for potential “indictment, prosecution and conviction." 

“If the local board doesn’t follow the new statute he would be in the position of referring that to prosecutors," Tachau said. “It’s not really clear why the legislature did this and there are a lot of questions that may not get answered.”

CLICK HERE TO READ THE LAWSUIT

In a statement, Department of Education spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman wrote in part "Given the constitutional prohibition on local or special legislation concerning the management of common schools, the JCBE presents a question that deserves review by the judicial branch. Like the JCBE members, the Commissioner took an oath to uphold both the Kentucky Constitution and the laws enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly." 

The JCPS Board has also filed a temporary injunction from keeping parts of SB1 from going into effect before a court can rule on their validity.

Tachau said he expects a first hearing with a judge this week to lay out a timeline for deciding on the injunction, before SB 1 takes effect in July. 

The Office of the Attorney General would be responsible for defending the law in court. 

A spokesperson Tuesday said they had received a copy of the suit and were in the process of reviewing it. 

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