“Fool me thrice.”
AROS stands for The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. It’s part of National Educators Association (NEA), which is the teachers’ association parent organization for KEA and JCTA.
In or around 2017, several of us that had been organizing for educational equity were invited by Tammy Berlin, long-standing VP of JCTA, to a meeting at the JCTA offices on Bishop Lane to meet with Nate Gunderson who flew in to help us get the Louisville chapter off the ground.
Organizational meetings were held and Chris Harmer was chosen (by Tammy Berlin I guess) to serve as chair.
Below are some of the campaigns we worked on together, and after labor of impacted community members being disrespected and thrown under the bus by Harmer, Berlin and/or McKim for the last time, the eventual departure of Dear JCPS from the group.
Recognizing that SCALA was a well-funded and out-of-touch “non-profit” that was attempting to run roughshod over authentic voices and organizations doing the heavy lifting in our community and patiently and obediently waiting our turn for the next opportunity to speak for 3 minutes at a board meeting or wrangle a meeting with district leaders, one of the very first actions our coalition engaged in was to put pressure onto what we felt were well-meaning but misguided organizations that had signed on to SCALA to reconsider their participation. We held rallies outside their meeting spaces and tried to send letters and emails to their leaders. We had some success, but really, we just drove them underground.
Shortly after beloved Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Stephen Pruitt was pushed out by Bully Bevin’s administration and replaced by “education czar” Dr. Wayne Lewis, an already underway audit of the largest school district in the state was coming to a close. Anticipating a sea change, JCPS Board Member Chris Brady publicly commented that the audit was going to recommend “probation” for our district and not a state takeover. This seemed to put a fly in the ointment of the ALEC Governor Bevin’s plans, and more screws began to tighten around us. JCTA quickly organized a meeting of leaders with an interest in JCPS and we met in their offices.
I remember I was at the annual Bed Race event that was popular among union groups when we all learned of the state takeover. I immediately went to Van Hoose where we stood together for a press conference. BIPPS and Pastors for Action Coalition, led by pastor Jerry Stephenson, were under one umbrella tent and we were under another.
Several more meetings were conducted in JCTA offices and they adopted the #OurJCPS branding for their campaign, took over all communication channels, calendars, decision making, leaving several of us in AROS scratching our heads, including Chris Harmer, who agreed that a state takeover threat was exactly why our coalition was brought together int he first place. Regardless, they forged on, even forming a steering committee which was broader than the actual executive committee that McKim, Berlin, and a few others directed. Our input was tolerated (most of the time) but was rarely incorporated into final outcomes, despite this concern being repeatedly raised by many, especially people of color. The more they objected, the less welcome they were. We were met with eye rolls, head shakes and sighs any time we raised concerns about tone, appearances, messaging.
The final straw for Dear JCPS was when AROS decision-makers decided to send an email to the JCPS School Board with a “compromise” that they would be willing to accept. Some of the organizations, including Dear JCPS were stanchly “just say no” to any compromises. Dear JCPS and Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, among others, had filed to be intervenors in the court case. We welcomed our day in court. Their “compromise” suggestion compromised the values and goals of their members and was done so with direct disregard to these members’ clearly communicated wishes.
When the district was discussing the proposed new student assignment plan for the first time (pre-pandemic), it was acknoledged that many people who don’t live in West Louisville have no idea how inequitable the current plan is. Our member representatives agreed that a community education campaign would be of value and it was mentioned that James Craig would be interested in hosting a forum in his district.. Chris Harmer reached out to Craig for a date and location. Ivonne Rovira, Greg Tichenor and I met over the weekend as a committee to refine and design the talking points and flow of the meeting. When our committee reported back to the main group with our detailed proposal, we were accused of changing the topic in our presentation from what was agreed upon by the group previously. After some back and forth, our presentation was discarded by Harmer and Craig was told that we were not ready, when in fact we were.
Below is the flyer we had prepared as part of our presentation. This badly needed event educating mostly white East end residents about the fact that not everyone in Louisville has the same educational opportunities, depending on where they live, not to mention the decades of injustices our West Louisville students have endured, never happened.
We had known for some time that the district was going to need to pass a tax increase in order to build more schools in West Louisville and eventually be able to implement their proposed student assignment plan. Due to years of Hargens not taking the 4% tax increase when she could, there was lost ground to make up. It was never questioned whether or not we would get behind a tax increase, should the district leaders recommend one.
AROS met one Monday afternoon, on Memorial Day, and discussed how we could support the campaign and counter the “No to JCPS Tax Hike” petition that was circulating by the known tea partiers in town. As part of our discussion, it was decided that people who want to be mad at JCPS for whatever reason may sign without realizing it was privatizers money funding the campaign, so we agreed to do a pledge and demonstrate one is PRO public education and the other is ANTI public education. It would also be an opportunity to capture names and email address of like-minded individuals who we may need to reach out to in the future. A website and campaign name and brand was created to be shown to the members for feedback and eventual approval. Chris Harmer, AROS chair, had reached out to JCTA because they did not have anyone on our call, but it was assumed that the consensus of the other five organizations that were represented on the call was sufficient to move forward, since we had a quorum present. He even sent this follow up email confirming we were moving in the same direction.
But something happened after that email and communications went cold. Ivonne sent Chris a follow up email asking where we were and a couple of days later we finally heard back with a completely different story.