Part 2 of 2

More than a thousand protesters including teachers rallied outside the State Capitol in Frankfort on March 13 as the Senate tried to find a path to pass the public pensions reform bill, known as SB 1. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

While the specter of a potential state takeover looms over upcoming negotiations between JCPS and its teachers’ union, the bargaining also will be encumbered by a challenging fiscal environment, as the school district has to weigh state funding cuts against salary requests from the union, which, for the first time, has to worry about declining dues from the right-to-work law.

The current five-year contract between Jefferson County Public Schools and the roughly 6,500 members of the Jefferson County Teachers Association will expire June 30.

Brent McKim

The good news, JCTA President Brent McKim said, is that the contract has been in place for a long time and has worked well for both the district and the teachers, which means that changes should be “evolutionary — not revolutionary.”

McKim said that throughout this school year, union leaders have been meeting once or twice a week with members in groups of about 20 — from elementary school teachers to librarians, speech pathologists and special education teachers — to gather feedback on which portions of the contract require tweaking.

McKim said he expected that negotiating teams from both parties would soon begin exchanging proposals.

JCPS told Insider via email that it has not named a negotiating team and that it therefore “would be inappropriate to comment regarding negotiations.” Insider reached out to some Jefferson County Board of Education members but did not get a reply.

McKim said that teacher pay would play a starring role in the bargaining, in part because the occasional small raises during the administration of former Superintendent Donna Hargens, who resigned last summer, have caused teachers’ buying power to decline.

“We certainly will be asking for raises,” McKim said.

He declined to provide details, but also acknowledged that JCPS is bargaining within tight fiscal constraints: Some of the district’s funding streams have slowed to a trickle at the state level at the same time that the spigots for some expenditures, including contributions for the retirement system of employees other than teachers, are widening.

The district’s chief financial officer, Cordelia Hardin, had told Insider in February that in her 27 years she had never seen the kinds of state cuts coming that were being proposed in the legislative session. She also said that 2018 would be a “very difficult year” in which to prepare the next school year’s budget.

Thanks in part to economic growth and rising property values, though, the district remains on sound financial footing. At the end of the last school year, JCPS had a General Fund balance of $154 million, or 14.7 percent of expenditures, which is above the 10 percent generally recommended by bond rating companies. The General Fund is the district’s main operating fund and pays for such expenditures as personnel.

Starting teachers at JCPS earn $42,700 per year. At the high end, teachers with 26 years of experience and 30 hours of education beyond a master’s degree make $83,700.

Courtesy of the BLS

McKim said most teachers had six or seven years of experience and earned about $52,000 per year. The national median for teachers is near $60,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but earnings vary significantly from state to state, or even within the same state, from metro to rural districts. For example, teachers in Nassau/Suffolk counties in New York earn a median salary of more than $100,000, while teachers in Texarkana, Texas, earn a median of less than $50,000.

Union leaders also may try to mitigate any impact from last year’s so-called right-to-work law. RTW laws bar agreements between employers and unions from making the payment of union dues a condition for employment. Opponents say such laws give workers a choice in whether they want to pay union dues, while opponents say it undermines unions and lowers wages.

For contracts negotiated since early last year, agreements between the employers (in this case, JCPS) and the union (JCTA) can no longer require employees (teachers) to pay union dues. McKim couldn’t be reached to talk about how the RTW law would affect payroll deductions and JCTA union dues, but BLS data indicate that union membership in Kentucky has declined since the law’s passage.

The share of Kentucky employees who are members of unions last year fell to 9.6 percent, after holding steady at around 11 percent for the three years before that.

The negotiations also will take place at a time of intense focus on the district, which, with 100,000 students, is by far the state’s largest: Kentucky’s interim commissioner for education, Wayne Lewis, is expected to release within days the findings of a long-awaited comprehensive audit that could have far-reaching consequences for JCPS, including the appointment of a state manager.

McKim said he hopes to get a new agreement in place by June 30 — though negotiations in some years have lasted into the fall. The bulk of the agreement generally covers five years, though the parties typically revisit salaries every one to two years.

Only four regularly scheduled Jefferson County Board of Education meetings remain before the current contract expires.

Part 1 deals with the uncertainties related to a potential state takeover.