About two dozen African American pastors on Tuesday called for Jefferson County Public Schools and the Jefferson County Teachers to open ongoing contract negotiations to the public.
The pastors also called for the new contract to allow principals more leeway to dismiss underperforming teachers, students more access to teachers before and after school hours and for struggling students to be paired with more experienced teachers.
“We will continue to press the core of what we’re asking for,” said Frank Smith Jr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition and pastor of Christ’s Church for Our Community.
“We will want to know why—we will want an explanation as to why—we as the taxpayers cannot be involved in these negotiations. We will demand a response. We won’t just be put aside, ignored.”
At the crux of their call is student achievement among minority students, which statistics show lags behind the JCPS average.
The pastors spoke outside the Vanhoose Education Center—the offices of the JCSP administrators. They questioned why negotiations that will affect thousands of students should be done privately.
Milton Seymore, chairman of the Justice Resource Center, added: “It has been said that democracy dies behind closed doors, and that the future of our children—this $1.1 billion dollars—is on the line. And the public has a right to know what is being said and what is happening behind closed doors.”
But that’s the way labor contracts are usually negotiated, for JCPS and other organizations with unionized employees.
“I think there are very few labor negotiations that happen in a fishbowl and I don’t think that’s the most conducive environment to working through problems,” said JCTA President Brent McKim, speaking to WFPL earlier.
“You have to be able to have frank conversations and that can be deterred if you have negotiations as a spectator sport.”
In a statement, JCPS said: “We are in the middle of negotiations and in order to continue bargaining in good faith, it’s unfair for us to publicly discuss these negotiations.”
JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey added that the public will have a role in the contract when the Jefferson County Board of Education considers the results of the negotiation.
That wont’ work for the ministers who spoke on Tuesday.
Smith said the group won’t let the matter of negotiations die—and they’ll meet again to discuss their next steps.
If JCPS and the JCTA don’t publicly open the negotiations—and they don’t seem inclined to do so—then the ministers will likely go to school board meetings to address the contract proposal, Smith said.
Especially if they don’t like much about it.
The speakers at Tuesday’s new conference also included Bishop Michael Ford Sr. of Christ Temple Christian Life Center; Jerry Stephenson, Kentucky director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options—a pro-charter schools group— and the pastor of Midwest Church of Christ; and Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College and pastor of St. Stephen Church.
The ministers’ criticism comes on the heels of an advertising campaign against JCTA by a new organization, Kids First Kentucky. A news release issued by the ministers on Tuesday listed as a media contact the same public relations worker who sent out as an earlier news release from Kids First. But Cosby, speaking after the news conference, said the ministers and Kids First have not collaborated.
He called Kids First the “new kids on the block.”
The JCTA and JCPS officials began contract negotiations earlier this month.
Smith said the pastors’ aim is ensuring that the contract is structured so that student outcomes improve.
“We appreciate our teachers, but it’s time that this contract be written in such a way that it’s for student achievement,” Smith said. “We want the students to get the best result of this contract.”
But Stephenson took a more specific aim: “We can no longer allow seniority to be the order of the day.”