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Curious Louisville: Could A State Takeover Of JCPS Affect Teacher Contracts?

school desks classroom
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

The current contract between Jefferson County Public Schools and the Jefferson County Teachers Association — the teachers union — expires on June 30. They’re early in the process of renegotiating. But maybe you’ve heard: the state of Kentucky might be taking over JCPS.

Curious Louisville listener Paul Downs, a former teacher, wanted to know whether the possible takeover could affect negotiations for JCTA's new contract with JCPS.

WFPL's education reporter Roxanne Scott asked JCTA president Brent McKim, who said he expects negotiations to continue as usual.

"We're committed to following, in good faith, the bargaining process that's in our contract," McKim said. "We're going to operate from the positive assumption that no matter who's on the other side of the table, they're going to, in good faith, follow the process for negotiating a new contract as well."

Who's on the other side of the table might depend on how long the negotiations take.

Normally, JCTA negotiates with representatives of the school board. If they agree on a contract before any potential state management is put into place, this might be like any other contract renewal year.

But if they're still trying to work out the terms when the state (maybe) takes over, JCTA might find themselves negotiating with representatives of the state instead. McKim said it won't matter, as long as everyone is sticking to the process.

And if that happens, and they reach an impasse with the state, could we see a teacher strike? 

McKim said their current contract is actually designed to prevent that. If the two sides can't agree on certain issues, each side puts its last, best offer for each issue into an envelope. An agreed-upon third party goes through the offers and selects one for each outstanding issue.

"In the end, that becomes the final agreement that both sides are committed to recommend to their constituency," McKim said. "It’s designed to avoid the kind of stalemate that could lead to strikes, and students not being able to go to school."

So no strike?

"As long as both sides follow the process that’s in the contract and honor in good faith the process, there’s no opportunity for a strike," McKim said.

Reporter Roxanne Scott said the question of a strike has an official answer and an unofficial answer: "Technically in Kentucky it is illegal for teachers to strike."

"But as we’ve seen, for example, in West Virginia, West Virginia just had a successful strike over pay, and it’s illegal to strike there," she said. "So it’s not outside the realm of possibility, just because it’s illegal to strike, that a strike won’t happen."

And if the contract is settled, then the state takes over management of JCPS, could they just nullify the contract? Roxanne says it's another question with an official answer and a speculative one.

"Official answer is that that’s unconstitutional," she said. "But we have seen in other states where this has happened. In Philadelphia there was a school reform commission and they pretty muchcancelled the teachers' contract and made them pay for health insurance. So, the official answer is no… but."

There are obviously lots of things we still don't know about what will happen for JCPS, its students, and its teachers over the summer. But if other states' experiences are any indication, we could be seeing plenty of things that, technically, shouldn't happen.

Listen to this story in the player above, and subscribe to Curious Louisville wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget, you can ask a question of your own! Type it in the form below, or at curiouslouisville.org.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.