Parents and education activists in Louisville are very upset about a quiet coup taking place behind closed door. A group of about 80 of the city’s business leaders has been meeting to decide how to solve the city’s problems, and one of them is the public schools. Needless to say, they do not trust democracy and are looking to the Republican leadership in the state to take over. The elitists are called LA SCALA, “the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda.” Others call them the Louminati, a reference to the Illuminati, a secretive group of power brokers.

Here is a summary:

Comedy, Tragedy at La SCALA
…behind the curtain of powerbrokers’ group

By Chris Kolb 

La Scala theater in Milan was founded by the Empress Maria Theresa and paid for by 90 wealthy Italians in exchange for luxurious boxes where they could enjoy the world’s finest artistic performances, including comic and tragic operas.

There is much about Louisville’s own SCALA that is comic. For instance, David Jones — Elder and Younger — and 70 of the most wealthy people in town have been brainstorming for months about how to solve all our problems. Here’s what they came up with: a Wal-Mart in West Louisville, more direct flights to the coasts and giving our barely functioning state government control over our schools.

In a city with over 100 homicides in 2017, more than 6,000 homeless children in public schools, and horrible air quality — to name a few bleak realities — what really makes Elder Jones see red is low-income citizens coming together to ask Wal-Mart to make a few minor changes to its proposed store design. I suspect Jones isn’t really upset about Wal-Mart but about normal people taking collective action to challenge corporate power. Imagine the hit to the pocketbook he might take if we all came together to fight for quality, affordable healthcare. Elder Jones also brought together Louisville’s self-professed powerbrokers to address the humanitarian crisis of the layovers he has to endure when flying to California wine country for the weekend. Satire really does write itself sometimes.

And then we come to education, which is where comic blends into tragic. Like Macbeth spurred on by his wife who is willing to throw all of Scotland into chaos in the naked pursuit of power, Younger Jones — spurred on by his father — is willing to throw our public schools and our children’s lives into the roiling tempest that is Kentucky state government. This is the same government that is unlikely to even pass a budget, has no current House Speaker due to a sex scandal, and has a governor so blinded by hatred of public schools that he tries to change the laws of mathematics to challenge the fiscal qualifications of the democratically-elected School Board. There’s a reason we continue to perform classics such as Macbeth: We remain plagued by a power-hungry nobility who will sacrifice the common good in seeking to rule over us plebeians.

Returning to comedy, Jones the Younger’s logic for a state takeover of JCPS is reminiscent of Sigmund Freud’s case of the man accused of damaging a kettle he borrowed from his neighbor. The man gives three reasons he is not responsible for the damage: He returned the kettle undamaged; it was already damaged when he borrowed it; and he had never borrowed the kettle at all. By completely contradicting each other the three reasons reveal the truth: It was indeed the neighbor who damaged the kettle.

Likewise, Younger Jones first says that academic achievement is largely determined by where you live, how much money your parents make and your race. I’m not optimistic that this state government is going to end segregation, poverty and institutional racism in Louisville if it takes over JCPS.

Second, Jones says that SCALA members are concerned about education from a workforce perspective. Is the real issue that corporate heads want more worker bees to generate additional wealth for them to capture (while wages remain stagnant)?

Third, Jones says the real problem is that state laws make it difficult for school boards to govern. I’ve been on the School Board for 13 months and, while there are always bureaucratic annoyances in any organization, we’ve been able to make significant progress in that short time. This includes cleaning up the many messes left by the Jones-Hargens-Hudson trio.

Like the neighbor who gave contradictory reasons for the damaged kettle, Younger Jones accidentally reveals the truth in blaming everything but himself: Jones found JCPS ungovernable because Jones himself is very bad at governing. We shouldn’t really be surprised. Many among the wealthy are used to making colossal messes, refusing to accept responsibility, and leaving the clean up to others. The ancient Greeks gave us a word for this level of arrogance so astounding it offends the gods themselves: hubris.

Thankfully, my colleagues and I have made tremendous strides to clean up the mess. Though much work remains, we will soon be able to turn our full attention to ensuring that every child has access to innovative, meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning and professional experiences no matter their zip code, race, gender or native country. Anytime Louisville’s nobility wants to actually assist JCPS, I’d be happy to help them find ways to do so. Of course, first they’d have to invite at least one public education professional to a secret SCALA meeting, which doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. •

Chris Kolb represents District 2 on the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education and is a professor of anthropology and urban studies at Spalding University. He may be reached at: chris@kolbforschoolboard.com

The article is followed by one defending LA SCALA as a perfectly appropriate exercise of civic duty.

It’s important to appreciate how SCALA began — not in some diabolical, smoke-filled vault as our critics would suggest, but with PNC Bank President Chuck Denny and Humana cofounder David Jones, Sr. seeing the need for such a group here in Louisville. They began the process of forming SCALA by hosting a group of 12 business and religious leaders in March 2017 and asking them if they believed such a group should exist in Louisville. The response was unanimous, and the 12 attendees were tasked with informally nominating other potential members who were either CEOs or the lead decision maker within their organizations.

The organizational meeting of the larger group was held in April 2017 and the committee members were charged with listing what they personally believed are the top issues facing Louisville needing to be addressed, with the top responses being education, public safety, improved and increased non-stop commercial air service, pension reform, and tax reform. Subcommittees were formed, and members were invited to participate in various subcommittees or simply participate in the broader committee by learning more about the critical issues impacting our community.

Here is the bottom line: If the purpose of LA SCALA is to eliminate democratic control of public schools, then it deserves all the opprobrium directed its way. If it instead opposes privatization and lobbies the Legislature for greater resources and stronger public schools, then it is a civic boon. The decision belongs to LA SCALA. Stand with democracy or against it. Your choice.