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Negotiations Begin: Can JCPS Find Common Ground With The Teachers Union?

Jefferson County Public Schools officials enter negotiations with the teachers union Monday to reconsider contract language that hasn’t been changed since 2005. With the backdrop being  criticism from state education officials and school reform advocates, many eyes will be watching closely.Here's a primer on what issues will be negotiated and how the process works.The Situation

The Jefferson County Teachers Association contract negotiations have been preceded byradio ads attacking the union and by threats of potential state takeover by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who provided JCPS with a list of expectations to implement; among them was addressing the perceived barriers created by the union’s contract.JCTA president Brent McKim has called the radio ads a political ploy with an agenda and he disagrees with Holliday’s allegations that the union has stood in the way of improving student outcomes. At the heart of that conversation is seniority in the hiring of teachers, which opponents say makes it difficult to have better performing teachers in lower performing schools.How It Will WorkThere will be six teachers and other support staff at the bargaining table for the JCTA, McKim says. JCPS will have an employee relations director, chief operations officer, chief financial officer, legal counsel and principals, he says.The entire contract will be on the table for consideration. JCPS and JCTA last overhauled the contract language in 2005 and then approved a three year extension in 2010, McKim says.“You can have major rewrites, or you can have situations where you just change a few words,” he says. “I see common ground, much more so than not.”The IssuesMcKim says one area of common ground could include flexibility for priority schools. JCPS has 18 schools that are deemed among the lowest achieving in a state, and have been the focus of much of the back and forth between Holliday and McKim.McKim says the JCTA wants to create more flexibility for principals at priority schools and add language that would clarify what those schools can and cannot do.The JCTA will pitch the idea to extend hiring flexibility for all four priority school turnaround models, McKim says. Currently, only schools that have adopted the re-staffing model—which forces schools to rehire half its staff—allow principals the discretion of hiring who they want, but only during the initial restaffing phase, he says. The JCTA wants to extend that ability beyond those restrictions.Further, JCTA believes the priority schools should be able to add extended time to teachers’ schedules, which means more teacher pay, but that wasn’t met with optimism from Superintendent Donna Hargens during private discussions earlier this month.“I have had meetings with Dr. Hargens to discuss the recommendations the JCTA has made for priority schools. I think the meetings were constructive and a positive step,” McKim says.As state and federal funding is cut, and the state’s pension system begins to weigh in on school district budgets, it may bring up more questions like those asked by District 2 board member David Jones Jr. at last week’s meeting.Jones, who addressed issues related to the draft budget, said the district needs to be aware of any future pension obligations that could create large holes in the district’s finances. JCPS financial officer Cordelia Hardin also said there has been no compensation or cost of living increases written into the latest draft budget.However, McKim says he believes there is room for increasing teacher salaries, but not much.“I don’t think it’s going to be anywhere near what teachers should receive for the work that they do and the difference that they make,” he says.

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