'I was a dad': JCPS Pollio has heated exchange over media availability amid busing disaster

In a rare public display of frustration, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio defended himself while explaining the emotional toll that running Kentucky's largest school system has taken on him and his family.

During his first press conference since a "transportation disaster" shuttered schools on what should have been the second day of the new year, Pollio was visibly offended by a reporter's questioning regarding his lack of media availability the day prior. The reporter pressed Pollio for an explanation for his public absence in the immediate aftermath of making the decision to cancel classes after bus delays caused students to get home hours after their school's dismissal - some just before 10 p.m.

"What are you asking me, specifically?" Pollio said. "If you are asking me if I was a dad yesterday - yes, I was a dad yesterday."

Pollio's daughter, Genevieve, graduated from Manual High this summer and prior to the chaos that ensued due to the busing changes, he had scheduled to be off from work Thursday so he could drive her to college, spokesman Mark Hebert told The Courier Journal Wednesday afternoon.

Manual High senior Genevieve Pollio receives her diploma from father Dr. Marty Pollio, JCPS Superintendent, during the Crimsons' 2023 commencement Friday afternoon at Freedom Hall. June 2, 2023.
Manual High senior Genevieve Pollio receives her diploma from father Dr. Marty Pollio, JCPS Superintendent, during the Crimsons' 2023 commencement Friday afternoon at Freedom Hall. June 2, 2023.

Whether or not Pollio made the trip wasn't confirmed until the one-minute heated exchange Friday.

"That is really an unbelievable question from you," Pollio continued. "I drove my daughter to college while I worked the entire time. If there is an issue with that - me not being able to speak to you - because I was being a dad, then that's what I was being. I was being a dad."

The question, which Pollio had already been asked, came after questions about whether he thought he should resign and whether he thought he should return the raise the district's board approved last summer. It also came after Pollio took ownership of the disastrous first day.

Pollio was given a $75,000 pay bump in July - a decision made by board members who were aware the superintendent could make about the same in retirement as what he had been making, meaning he would essentially be volunteering to lead a district with about 96,000 students and 17,000 employees.

With an annual base salary of $350,244, Pollio is the highest-paid superintendent in Kentucky, making about $36,000 more than the second-highest-paid superintendent and $186,000 more than Gov. Andy Beshear.

But, Pollio's salary breaks down to far less than the rest of the state's superintendents on a per-student basis, and it is on par with the salaries of superintendents running similar districts nationally.

For example, the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District - a large urban district of about 98,000 students - is paid $375,000. Pollio highlighted previous coverage by The Courier Journal that noted the fact that he could make about $276,000 in retirement and mentioned his abnormally long tenure running the system.

The Council of the Great City Schools is comprised of 78 large urban school districts across the country and of that group, only 10 superintendents have served in their roles longer than Pollio.

"I am fearful for this community," Pollio said about when he is no longer running JCPS. "There will not be many, if any, applications for this job."

He mentioned the most recent attack on the district by Republican lawmakers who are once again threatening to split the system up, the teacher sick outs that consumed the start of his role, the upheaval caused to the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the intense scrutiny public education has undergone in recent years.

"My family has suffered a great deal from me having this job," Pollio said. Aside from the long hours and constant stress he is under, Pollio said his family has to see "the nastiness," that is posted about him on social media regularly.

Keeping the district's transportation the same as last year's, Pollio has repeatedly said, would mean students across the system would continue to miss instruction or be stuck at school for long periods due to the driver shortage.

"I have been tasked to lead bold change and that is what I'm doing," Pollio said, adding later that "It's a lot easier as a superintendent to do the status quo, but that isn't what's right for kids."

Dropping his daughter off and driving away, he told the group of reporters, caused him to cry for the first time in 20 years, "and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

Contact reporter Krista Johnson at kjohnson3@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: JCPS' Marty Pollio reacts to availability over busing disaster