The Jefferson County Board of Education has approved a new five-year bargaining agreement with the teachers union, but the vote was not unanimous.
The contract was approved 5-1—board member David Jones Jr. was absent—and will mean more flexibility for principals and schools when hiring new teachers and no cost-of-living increases.
The school district made good progress over the three weeks of negotiations, says District 3 board member Debbie Wesslund, but the agreement includes paying part of the Jefferson County Teachers Association president’s salary and this is not only inappropriate, but could potentially be illegal, she says.
The current JCTA president—Brent McKim—is paid for 187 days of work by the district and is reimbursed for 73 days by the union itself, according to JCPS officials. This means JCPS pays around $79,000 of McKim’s salary. Part of his job as union leader is to participate in political action work and Wesslund says she “cannot vote for a contract that subsidizes the salary of the union president directly from taxpayer money.”
Wesslund fears that the district would, in essence, be paying for any political action work he’s involved with.
“We know a significant role of the union leadership has been to participate in campaigns for school board and other offices,” Wesslund said, reading from a speech she prepared.
“I’m not filing a big complaint,” Wesslund told WFPL after the meeting. “This is just something that’s come before me. I’ve raised those concerns. I think going forward we need to make sure we’re doing this right.”
McKim says he provided Wesslund with a letter from the Attorney General’s office that was dated 2002 and addressed to former JCTA executive director Stephen Neal showing the president’s role and payment by the district was in compliance with state law. He further says any borderline work he does is on the union’s dime.
“If I know I’m going to be doing political action work, we designate that one of the 73 days paid by the association, not paid by the school district,” McKim says.
Going forward, Wesslund expects there to be some follow up by the district to ensure the new bargaining agreement is within its legal parameters.
Other board members complimented the district and union leaders for negotiating the contract, which hadn’t been updated for several years.
“I really appreciated the whole process. I thought it was so efficient. I mean I know it was intense and lasted several weeks, but I thought it was efficient,” says District 5 board member Linda Duncan.
“I’ve been on the board many years and we’ve never got this far as far as the transfers go,” says District 6 board member Carol Haddad.
District 4’s Chuck Haddaway says he also had similar concerns as Wesslund regarding the paying of the JCTA president, but overall he approved of the contract and said it did support improving student achievement. He further said he wished it went a little further with providing principals options of who they could hire.
“I wanted to see a little bit more leniency in the transfer [process] even more than what we had already,” Haddaway says.
District 7’s Chris Brady says the contract is comprehensive and if there’s one thing he’d like to have seen it would have been raises for teachers, but he says he understands the financial and economic realities of providing teachers more pay.
Although District 2’s David Jones Jr. was not present he says he would have voted to approve the contract and said in an email:
My vote is in favor of the agreement, which I consider a substantial improvement for students and taxpayers alike, and a harbinger of a new era of labor-management flexibility in delivering instruction for our students. Especially for students who struggle in our current system, modernization of work rules and funding for extended hours offers great promise.
Most important to me, the new agreement gives school and district leaders the authority to create environments where teachers can do their best work — and removes from JCPS the excuse of an overly rigid union contract as an explanation for failure.
(Image via Shutterstock)