The following op-ed is written by Newport Board of Education member Aaron Sutherland, who is also an attorney.
I was elected to Newport Independent School Board in 2020 on the heels of the initial ReNewport’s Education Task Force report. Prior to my decision to seek a board seat, I spent hours going through the report.
Since taking my seat I’ve gotten to know Superintendent Tony Watts, who was hired in the months leading up to the 2020 school board election, along with my wonderful school board colleagues. I have seen firsthand the passion and hard work our teachers and administrators put into our school district. I have watched as Mr. Watts has immersed himself into the community.
SEE PREVIOUSLY: Report outlines struggles of Newport Independent Schools
And I have witnessed students from diverse backgrounds succeed and thrive, including a 15-year old immigrant who obtained nearly a perfect score on the ACT, a senior who won multiple awards for his design skills and a second grader who won awards and was recognized by the media after bravely standing up and belting out the National Anthem at an event.
I also know the legacy of Newport alumni, from inventors to wealthy philanthropist entrepreneurs to everyday folks who live and thrive in our community. There are also several recent graduates who have been admitted to prestigious colleges, such as Columbia University.
Long before the release of the 2022 ReNewport Education Task Force report, our board and district were moving forward on key reforms such as raising teacher salaries, creating a tuition reimbursement program and most recently, providing retention pay for staff.
Newport is an independent district with more than 95 percent of students from households that fall under the federal poverty level. However, this is not by design. Only approximately 68 percent of school age children in the district attend our schools. The others often attend private schools or send their children to other public school districts.
Recently, the Kentucky legislature made it even easier for parents to have “school choice” when it passed HB563, which allows the state funding allocated for each student to travel with them to other public school districts.
In fact, years prior to the passage of HB563 the Newport, Bellevue, Dayton and Fort Thomas school districts had agreements in place for students who might want to attend a neighboring district. In other words, school choice is alive and well in Northern Kentucky. Currently, more than 30 percent of eligible Newport students are already choosing to attend school elsewhere.
I attended public schools in Carroll County as well as Western Kentucky University and Chase College of Law. But I had very little background or knowledge about this system prior to being elected on a platform of accountability. And I stand by that platform.
Our district must perform better on standardized tests and we must retain our hardworking teachers. However, it was not until recently I began to really dig into charter schools. It did not take long for me to figure out why there is a concerted push for these schools.
Taking our tax dollars and converting them to private institutions, owned by corporate interests that are not required to admit students with disabilities, behavior issues, or language barriers, is not the answer. Nor is the answer siphoning off our tax dollars and transferring them to private interests that do not have the same requirements or standards as public schools.
The answer is – repair the system. That is just what Tony Watts was hired to do. And I will stand beside him and do everything in my power to support this mission.
I sat with Mr. Watts and the three members of ReNewport’s Education Task Force one evening back in the spring and we went through the numbers and data together. As ReNewport’s Josh Tunning reiterated after LINK nky posted a recent earlier op-ed, the purpose of Task Force report was not to call for charter schools. In fact, ReNewport is against implementing charter schools in Northern Kentucky and it has reiterated this position on multiple occasions over many years. The report’s purpose is for the Newport community to come together and help raise up the schools.
Our school board has invited ReNewport’s Education Task Force members to come back to a second meeting to dig deeper into the data they analyzed and to work together as a community to improve our schools. And I personally believe we will be successful. As our board chairwoman Ramona Malone often reminds us, “it takes a village.”