LETTERS: Politics at Perry school board?

September 10, 2013

Regarding your recent reporting on Perry school board, we do understand correctly that, for his role in the falsification of 2009 Perry Schools ACT scores, newly hired Perry superintendent Jonathan Jett pleaded no-contest, and agreed with Kentucky Professional Educational and Professional Standards to accept:

1. an 18-month suspension of certification.

2. never for the remainder of his career, to be in the vicinity of state-mandated testing, with Chairman Combs submitting a letter annually to that effect, otherwise Jett’s certification can be revoked, ending his career.

At a time when we desperately need total focus on instruction and evaluation, we have employed as top academic and administrative leader of the district a person who can have no role in, or oversight of, all state-mandated evaluation of student performance. To briefly track Mr. Jett’s career, he has a few years of classroom experience, from there to the maintenance department, to overseeing special education to district testing coordinator. Conspicuously absent is significant experience in academic instruction or academic oversight.

For some reflection, prior to and during the Jett hiring, did board members not know the terms of Jett’s agreed order with the professional standards board? After all, they dealt with the ACT ordeal, the cheating scandal over which he presided, the invalidated test scores, and his ensuing punishment. In the face of those facts, how did both the search committee and a majority of the board set aside other “clean” candidates who most certainly had qualifying résumés and background administrative experience? How did he get past the scrutiny of the search committee? Were they made aware of his restrictions, or did he not divulge this on his résumé? Finally, with criminal prosecutions for that behavior in Atlanta, Chicago, and other points across the nation, how did Mr. Jett walk away from the professional standards board essentially unscathed and with authorization to be a lame-duck superintendent?

For some analysis of the search committee, there were five members. Search committee member and long-term central office employee Dacker Combs, Jr., according to himself, believed in “staying local.” Failed Chavies Principal Eddie Browning sat on the search committee. Browning is the now-removed principal and newly-hired district athletic director.

How did Mr. Jett get a majority vote by the board? Critical swing-vote member Charlene Miller, throughout the selection process and up to the time of the vote, stoutly proclaimed herself to be in favor of going out of the district for leadership, very vocally supporting the KSBA search, but when the vote was cast, supported Chairman Combs’ candidate. Perry Countians may remember the John Paul Amis accusations leveled against Mrs. Miller last year regarding the Perry Central principalship. Now, of course, after her resignation, her daughter has a new central office position.

We all understand the importance of medical insurance, particularly in these times. That school board members legally have access to medical insurance through the school district is not a widely-known fact — contingent of course, on board approval. Compound today’s crushing costs of being uninsured with a chronic, potentially debilitating medical condition, and the importance of remaining on school board at whatever cost could loom large.

For some analysis of Mr. Jett’s statement that “when I hired people I’ve had specific criteria, and if those people meet that criteria better than the other applicants then that’s who I hired.” What were the criteria when he:

1. Hired former roommate and friend Eddie Browning as A.D. after Chavies Elementary test scores came in last in the state.

2. Provided a soft landing in premier school Robinson Elementary for Estill Neace. That principal, by the way, now Levi-clad, known as “Estill” by students, and drawing the same pay while we pay the state management team nearly $1 million to clean up the Perry Central wreckage.

3. Left all central office administrative personnel in position after KDE authorities found them totally devoid of ability to fix the district problems.

The “mess up, move up and be protected from consequences” poster child himself, Mr. Jett was suspended and immediately transferred to maintenance without loss of pay or time, marking time there until he was awarded the interim superintendent’s job, vanquishing the only other contender, ousted Perry Central Principal Estill Neace, whom he immediately hired for another principalship.

Mr. Jett is simply carrying on tradition. Scott Brown, removed from Robinson , reinstated to Robinson and removed again. Classified employee Jody Maggard in a larger-than-life role as district spokesperson, adviser, decision-maker, buffer.

Those who don’t fit the profile either don’t get hired, or don’t get promoted. Largely, those whose lifestyles leave them vulnerable to being controlled are valued and promoted. Their value lies not in their ability to educate, but in their willingness to be subservient and not to question others with large-family or political connections who can deliver at the ballot box. Others, cronies whose relatives and family members can be counted on for loyalty come election time. All carefully controlled by one aging, self-admitted politician who has honed the art of delivering and calling in favors for four decades.

In closing, the Jonathan Jett disciplinary action has the distinct appearance of political intervention into an arena that should be off-limits and non-negotiable. Unaddressed by higher authority, abuses of this magnitude leave Perry Schools with no hope. The allegations recently reported, if proven, are actionable. There were two dissenting votes. To Commissioner Holliday and investigator Timmel-Hatzell: We have, for decades, funded state government along with KDE, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in coal severance, sales, and personal income tax. Our dues are paid. Please help us.

Eddie N. Campbell

Lost Creek, Ky.