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Jefferson County Public Schools and Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement on Contract

Principals would hire teachers from an expanded list of transfer prospects under a tentative labor contract agreement reached Friday by Jefferson County Public Schools and the teachers' union.The negotiations between JCPS and the Jefferson County Teachers Association began June 3 and were accompanied by calls for the union to make concessions from a couple of groups, which argued that the current contract impedes needed changes for struggling schools.In an interview Friday, Superintendent Donna Hargens said that the tentative agreement would address issues raised by community groups.“It’s very aligned to the goal of the strategic plan," Superintendent Donna Hargens said on Friday. "And it specifically addresses concerns that we’ve heard. That’s what drove our team’s priorities.”The deal also means that teachers won't get a cost-of-living pay increase in the next year, though some teachers can get raises based on the experience- and education-based "step" increases,  says a JCPS spokeswoman.JCTA President Brent McKim did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Update: JCTA President Brent McKim said: We were all trying to negotiate the best agreement possible at a time when we are dealing with federal sequestration and state budget cuts. It’s a particularly bad year to be bargaining for things that require financial resources."We were able to make a significant number of improvements to the agreement that will benefit students, teachers, parents, and administrators. The changes to the transfer process expand choices for schools and opportunities for teachers while honoring experience and service by teachers."The Jefferson County Board of Education and the Jefferson County Teachers Association membership must approve the agreement before it goes into effect. If approved, the new contract would be for five years.The full document was not released Friday. JCPS issued an outline of the changes in a news release, which is posted at the bottom of this story.The tentative agreement will be made public next week, Hargens said.The ChangesHargens said the changes to the rules outlining teacher transfers gives principals more leeway.Under current rules, principals looking to hire a teachers are given a list of the top three transfer candidates based on seniority. The hire from that list.The tentative agreement expands that list to the eight most senior teachers looking to transfer. And, if they have only one teacher on the transfer list, the principal can choose from all applicants. In the past, if only one JCPS teacher applied to transfer into a chemistry job (for example), they got the job.And, in the past, if the principal hired someone after August, the principal the next year had to take the top most senior person from the transfer list.“Principals now have the ability to choose from a larger number of teachers, and if there are a small number of teachers on the transfer list then they really can look at any applicant of the Jefferson County Public Schools system," Hargens said."So, they really have more opportunity to get the right fit of teacher with the students.”The news release adds: • All principals will be able to assign teachers where they can best serve the students’ academic needs. Assignments are based on several equally weighted criteria, including certification, preference, measurable employee capabilities, needs of the educational program, seniority, and balance of workload.The agreement adds language that says principals at priority schools will have autonomy in hiring—which Hargens said was more of a formality, because it's already the case.JCPS will also make $5 million in fund balances available to "provide targeted extra learning hours for students." The provision won't be a part of the contract, but the school district has made the commitment.The money will pay for the extra hours teachers work after regular hours with struggling students.“We know that all our students can learn what is expected of them, but we know that some of our students need more time," Hargens said. "So we can put expert teachers with students who need them in extended time, and our board has committed to spending the dollars.”Under the tentative agreement, parents will also have access to grades and attendance records online via JCPS's Parent Portal.What Next?So the JCTA members have to approve the agreement. And the Jefferson County Board of Education has to approve it, too. The tentative agreement will be sent out to JCTA members next week. It's unclear of when a vote may happen. (We'll update when we hear from McKim.)It'll be an up-or-down vote by both sides, Hargens notes.The current contract went into effect in 2005 and was extended in 2010.(Earlier:  Negotiations Begin: Can JCPS Find Common Ground With The Teachers Union?)This month's contract negotiations were under scrutiny from the group Kids First Louisvilleand about adozen African American pastors. The latter called earlier this week for the negotiations to be open to the public. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday also sent a letter in March telling JCPS that it should address perceived barriers to addressing low-performing schools that were created by the current contract.Here's the JCPS news release on the tentative agreement: Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) have reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year labor contract. This agreement builds upon ongoing efforts that are designed to boost academic achievement while meeting the needs of students. This agreement must be approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education and ratified by the JCTA membership before it is final. “Meeting student needs and providing the best possible education have been the primary goals for both parties throughout the negotiations.” says JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens. We responded to the concerns of the community through the following key provisions in the contract:
  • All principals will have more flexibility in hiring teachers who are requesting transfers.
  • All principals will be able to assign teachers where they can best serve the students’ academic needs. Assignments are based on several equally weighted criteria, including certification, preference, measurable employee capabilities, needs of the educational program, seniority, and balance of workload.
  • Principals at Priority Schools continue to have complete autonomy in hiring.
  • Pursuant to state law, the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement will not supersede the statutory requirements for Priority Schools.
  • All parents will have the opportunity to access grades and attendance online via the Parent Portal, a secure Web-based system.

In addition, although it is not part of the contract, the district has committed to use $5 million in fund balance to provide targeted extra learning hours for students.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.