COMMUNITY VOICE: Last Week’s Town Hall Meeting with Rep. Kevin Bratcher

First of all, a thank you for Representative Kevin Bratcher for attending the event. He could have cancelled or found a reason to skip it. He attended at least and he shared with the group his home phone number, which is (502) 231-3111.

Before the event started, I was informed by organizers that no questions would be asked and could only be submitted beforehand in writing. I wrote and submitted two questions, neither of which the moderator read. She appeared to be a retiree and volunteer with the Friends of the Library.

I left the event convinced that Rep. Bratcher is no better suited to weigh the complex variables of HB 151 than the moderator volunteer was prepared to operate a forum with questions. If you attended the event or watched it on Periscope, you understand my meaning. She rattled off in machine gun-style segments of four or five questions at a time, at times allowing Rep. Bratcher to deliver a speech about a bill passed in 1942 or about his own time with Pleasure Ridge Park High and Shawnee High in the 1970s. At one point, he appeared to confuse the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling (1954) with the 1974 Judge Cordon ruling to desegregate Louisville’s schools.

There were many people in attendance with an understanding of the district’s magnet operations as well as system-wide challenges and strengths. Those were the folks who submitted questions. Rep. Bratcher did not seem to have a complex understanding of JCPS operations or how this sweeping legislation would affect students, magnet programs, or students, especially those with the most vulnerability, special needs, foster care, highly impoverished, homeless, and transient students.

Perhaps the most telling statement that Rep. Bratcher made was when he said: “I don’t know how to run a school system.” The crowd followed up with some jeers.

“I don’t know how to run a school system.”

I was disappointed that Metro Councilman Stuart Benson, who appeared irritable with the entire thing, delivered a deadpan statement that said: “I think JCPS is doing great.” A moment later he clarified that his statement was sarcasm, for which a bearded and bald white man with a Black Lives Matter sign reminded him this was no time for sarcasm. I agree. Benson also, I felt, took a condescending shot at Rob Mattheu by asking him how well he really knew the school system and questioned his motives for being there. Mattheu clarified that he attended as a concerned parent, and I think anyone who follows news and events of JCPS in the past several years is well acquainted with Mattheu’s knowledge and passion about JCPS.

While Rep. Bratcher seem short or unclear on details, I did appreciate the polish and nuance that Morgan McGarvey offered. He does not support HB151 and he is a product of JCPS. He added (without any sarcasm) that JCPS does have highly successful schools as well as challenges, but added that HB151 is not a solution to fix any of it.

I have to say the real prophet in the room was the social worker, an African-American woman wearing a neon green shirt with large letters that said: “My sweatshirt is brighter than your future.”

For all of the back and forth and emotions of the crowd along with the assurances by the four elected officials that tax reform and budgeting would free up more money for the pension system and schools and social services, this woman offered a plea to acknowledge the ongoing suffering, crime, displacement, family trauma, and hopelessness that is going unaddressed while many of us have debates and scrutinize legislation. All approaches are needed, but this lady—similar to an overworked and overstressed school teacher in a tough school—was crying out for others to wake up to the reality that most of us do not see everyday and with the reminder that more money in two years will be too late to fix.

“I left unconvinced that people who advocate for HB151 or any of the other state legislation aimed at teaching Louisville a lesson have really thought out the powerful weapon they’re holding.”

I’m glad that I took the time to attend, but I left unconvinced that people who advocate for HB151 or any of the other state legislation aimed at teaching Louisville a lesson have really thought out the powerful weapon they’re holding.

Justin Willis is a former and (reformed) daily newspaper reporter and columnist. He is the father of two daughter, one a JCPS student and the other is a future JCPS student. He enjoys photography and reading history of the four corners region. You can find him on Twitter and Flickr as @KYCactus.