Education

Faculty and staff within the Jefferson County Public Schools system continue to call out district administration for potential changes to teacher salary structure and the student code of conduct.

Nearly 500 teachers and school employees turned out for a peaceful protest to the potential changes Tuesday afternoon outside the district’s administration building along Newburg Road. They donned umbrellas and ponchos, chanting through the rain for what they called adequate pay, safe classrooms and respect from district administrators.

“We’re just mad,” said Chris Applegate, a math teacher at DuPont Manual High School.

The protests stem from two separate issues that erupted last month.

One relates to the findings of a comprehensive study of JCPS salaries released by district administrators that found teachers and thousands of other district employees are paid more than the market rate — about $100 million more, collectively, said Allison Martin, spokeswoman for the school district.

District officials established a community task force to examine the findings, and that task force recommended freezing salaries for employees earning more than $14 an hour to allow for a total reexamination of the district’s pay structure, Martin said.

Meanwhile, the district’s code of conduct advisory committee also presented preliminary findings to the JCPS Board of Education late last month that could potentially alter the code of conduct, leading to what some teachers believe are reduced penalties for certain kinds of disruptive behavior.

Among the proposals was to eliminate suspensions for some offenses, such as foul language and dress code violations. They would also reduce long-term suspensions for infractions such as fighting.

Nothing is finalized yet. Last week, more than 100 schools across the district held “walk-in” protests before the school days began.

Applegate said the recommendation from the committee regarding salaries makes teachers feel undervalued.

“They’re basically sitting up there and telling us that we’re worthless and our jobs aren’t worth what they pay,” he said.

20160510_181505Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Tamara Davis

Tamara Davis, a fifth grade teacher at Young Elementary, held a sign Tuesday on the side of Newburg Road that read “teacher safety matters.”

“Our students deserve to be safe, our teachers deserve to be safe; my son is in a public school, and he deserves to be safe,” she said.

Davis said suspensions may very well not be the ideal method to address behavior issues. But if the district is going to move away from suspensions, some systems need to be introduced that can address behavior issues on the front end, before students get into the classroom, she said.

“Go into these communities and find ways to help students learn how to function in society,” she said. “Find ways that we can support these students.”

Some teachers also take issue with how the district is leading the conversation regarding the potential changes to salaries and student code of conduct.

20160510_174333Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Harsh Upadhyay

Harsh Upadhyay teaches math at Seneca High School. He said the district needs to show more transparency, and teachers should be included in the conversation about their own salaries and what they can do in their own classrooms.

“I don’t remember the last time I was asked to weigh in with my opinion on anything,” he said.

No changes could be made to teachers’ salaries outside of standard contract negotiations. Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim said the next step is to negotiate with the district.

“We’re certainly going to be willing to sit down and negotiate in good faith on all of these issues with the the district, and we hope they will do likewise,” he said.

McKim said he anticipates an agreement regarding salaries by June. He said some resolution on potential changes to the student code of conduct could come by mid-summer.

WFPL News is partnering with Al Dia en America to provide Spanish-language versions of stories. To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.