Issue March 27, 2007

City Strobe

The superintendent gap
What if one of the best jobs in the nation opened up and nobody wanted it because it was so oppressively thankless? While that description might sound like Tubby Smith’s old job at UK, it’s also what the Jefferson County Board of Education seems to face in its search for a new superintendent. After browbeating the current guy into fleeing north for friendlier environs (still not talking about UK here), the board saw two of its three favorite candidates drop out of contention, citing those pesky “personal reasons.”

That leaves the board with exactly one candidate: Sheldon Berman. While he’s got laudable experience in conflict resolution and social justice, he’s also a white Yankee who leads a Massachusetts school district that has a total of 46 African-American students. Sounds like the perfect candidate to lead the 98,000-student Jefferson County Public Schools, where 37 percent of students are black, right?

Not to leaders of the Louisville NAACP and the Justice Resource Center, who are demanding that the board reopen the search, ideally finding a candidate who’s not whiter than the bald spots on the Louisville Country Club’s yachting subcommittee.

So, why aren’t great candidates lining up for the JCPS job? The gig is pretty sweet. JCPS is the nation’s 31st-largest school district, with distinguished schools, teachers, administrators and students. It has a history of progressive problem-solving, high parent satisfaction and improving test scores. And the superintendent job pays more than 200K per year — not quite college-basketball benjamins (hey, we have our priorities), but not too shabby.

Then there’s this: Like all urban districts, some of Jefferson County’s schools are having trouble meeting No Child Left Behind benchmarks that most educators agree are unfunded mandates with unrealistic goals. And, well, the last superintendent got the nudge after doing what most people believe was an outstanding job. Oh, and there’s also this: The U.S. Supreme Court might overturn the district’s wildly successful racial desegregation program that has served as a model for school districts nationwide. No matter what the court decides, some group of constituents is going to be pissed.

So, who’s the perfect candidate? Somebody with outstanding diplomatic skills, a keen understanding of education and the politics of race, and somebody who reflects the racial makeup of Jefferson County’s student body. And even though Barack Obama seems kinda busy right now, JCPS might still expand the search. Right? —Jim Welp

‘Minimum’ = the least they could do
And you thought only the rich got richer under Republican regimes. Last week, Gov. Fletcher signed a new state minimum wage bill into law that will help the working poor get a little less poor. The minimum wage in Kentucky will rise in three stages, from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 in July, to $6.55 in July 2008 and to $7.25 in July 2009. While welcome, the increase wasn’t exactly politically courageous on anyone’s part. The U.S. Congress and Dubya have agreed on a plan to raise the minimum wage nationwide by a similar amount. —Jim Welp

NAACP leader will help usher in Braden Institute
In the foreword to the 1999 edition of “The Wall Between” — legendary activist Anne Braden’s memoir on her Louisville sedition case (she and her husband were indicted for buying a house for an African-American couple in an all-white neighborhood) — NAACP chairman Julian Bond wrote that Anne and Carl Braden are “part of a small band of modern abolitionists willing to brave danger in pursuit of the unfinished American racial revolution.”

Bond maintained a relationship with the Bradens — Carl died in 1975 and Anne just last year — for decades, which is partly why he’ll be in town on Wednesday, April 4, to present the first Anne Braden Memorial Lecture during the grand opening of the University of Louisville’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research. The institute’s mission is to combine academic research with activism in much the same way Braden was able to do in her writings, which will also be available — along with some of the Bradens’ considerable personal library — at a new reading room at U of L’s Ekstrom Library.

“This institute is a way to institutionalize the local legacy of the Southern Civil Rights Movement through one of its major white allies, which was Anne Braden, and to a second extent her husband Carl Braden,” said Cate Fosl, director of the institute and author of the biography “Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South.”

As the head of the NAACP, Bond has cut a controversial figure, most recently for comments about Republicans’ dubious ideas of race relations. In a February 2006 speech, Bond said, “ idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side-by-side.” He is currently a history professor at the University of Virginia.

The lecture and grand opening start at 5:30 p.m. at the Brown & Williamson Club at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. It’s free and open to the public. —Stephen George

Video on the radio?
At some point each spring, public radio listeners know they’ll wake up one morning and hear people on their favorite station talking about how great public radio is. The talkers are asking for money, of course, because it’s a given that non-commercial programming needs help from as many places as possible. This spring, however, that asking period won’t last quite as long. The Public Radio Partnership, which oversees three FM stations — WFPL, WFPK and WUOL — has shaved two days off its spring fund drive, which started Monday and runs through Sunday.

That’s not the only change afoot at PRP. For the first time, the organization is conducting an extensive online listener survey (www.prp.org). As with all traditional media striving to adapt to the new media world, radio is in danger of losing its position in the marketplace, and so the survey is an earnest attempt to find out what listeners want from public radio, says PRP chief Donovan Reynolds, who’s been on the job since Sept. 1. Reynolds is candid in admitting he’s not sure where public radio will end up, only that it must change (read: let go of its traditional top-down decision-making style when it comes to listener content) to stay viable. Fortunately, he says, “I have a high tolerance for ambiguity.”

With the advent of high-definition radio, PRP now has 12 entities — six channels and a Web site for each. (HD radio still requires a separate radio.) With commercial radio now largely controlled by chains, Reynolds believes public radio must operate with an intense local focus. He expects the PRP stations to include related video on their Websites, and he believes the station with the most room for growth — WFPL — should sharpen its focus on three areas: news, arts and neighborhoods.

“It’s largely a question of resources and institutional will,” Reynolds says of beefing up the news channel. “WFPL needs more to do the job.”

For more information, call PRP at 814-6500. —Cary Stemle

Get your daily Strobe at “The Lip: LEO’s News Blog” at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com