SCALA: Work with us not above us

Make no mistake, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda, or SCALA, has been going on for about a year.

Longer than, most notably, David Jones Jr. and Sr., have been publicly acknowledging. The group’s attempt to usurp control of Jefferson County Public Schools has been building for longer than that.

It must be roundly rejected.

Louisville’s wealthiest, most influential leaders have a right to lobby and advocate for change. They can do countless things to help schools, teachers and students. But they should use their influence to support public institutions — not shatter them.

Herein lies the audacity and the arrogance of wealthy, problem solvers: Because 70 of them have the means and ability — the wealth and political influence — to decide to take over the system and remake it in their vision, they could succeed.

This is exactly what an oligarchy looks like.

These powerbrokers believe their success, wealth and influence in this community defines their expertise, and qualifies them to be the saviors of our public schools.

That is not to say that they are selfish, ill-intended or bad people. Many are generous, caring members of the community and sincere in their desire to help. And the city does need their help.

But the way the group was formed, and is being run, raises many questions about its motives and gives us many reasons to be suspicious. The scheme, born in secrecy, is showing no signs of transparency.

According to a Courier Journal story, Jones Sr. was asked if the next meeting would be open to the public. Of course not, he said. Why? “Because I said so.”

Compare that to the Nashville group on which SCALA was modeled. It held public hearings and has worked to involve the community.

What are you hiding?

Maybe the group’s methods are driven by motive — there is an overwhelming stench of vendetta, a calculated attempt to avenge Jones Jr.’s failed reelection to the JCPS School Board.

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Above all, SCALA should not and cannot be a mechanism to put one of their own in control of the school district.

It should not result in Jones Jr. being made school czar.

He has said he believes JCPS is broken and that we need to be open to the possibility of a state takeover of the school district, consolidating power in a state-appointed super superintendent. Jones Jr. cited a report his subcommittee commissioned, showing that a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union gets in the way of needed reforms.

Eighty five percent of JCPS teachers have a master’s degree or higher. They are not stupid or greedy… nobody goes into teaching to get wealthy. They should be worked with, not treated like peasants of the oligarchy.

I don’t question Jones Jr.’s desire to see more kids succeed. His campaign for school board was remarkable. People in his position don’t run for school board… they write checks. But, to his credit, he didn’t buy his seat. He walked the neighborhoods and asked people for their votes.

So now, like then, the answer can’t be to force your way into power.

If SCALA really wants to help in a meaningful way, it should look at itself — at its membership. It has all of the pieces needed to make real, impactful change:

Its membership of real estate developers and bankers can help Louisville build more affordable housing, so fewer students are homeless.

Its membership of food industry leaders can find ways to ensure that no student goes to class distracted by hunger.

Its membership of community service and religious leaders can devise after-school and out-of-school opportunities to make sure kids don’t leave school for dangerous, destructive activities.

And its membership of healthcare leaders, including Jones Jr. and Sr., can find ways to ensure students and teachers can get healthcare, supporting their education.

Louisville needs Jones Jr. and Sr. and every SCALA member to make this community a better place.

But they must work with the city, not above it. 

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