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Some JCPS teachers say union leaders aren’t asking for enough in proposed contract extension

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Some members of the Jefferson County Teachers Association say a proposed contract extension doesn’t go far enough to address working conditions during a teacher shortage.

Union leadership gave their tentative approval to a three-year contract extension, which would boost pay by 5%. The rest of the union’s 5,800 members have until Friday to vote on the agreement. But some are questioning union leadership’s decision to extend the existing contract, rather than begin full negotiations on a new one.

“It’s just completely unacceptable,” JCTA member Chandler Gies told WFPL News.

Gies, who teaches social studies at Stuart Academy, said teachers are struggling, and that the district needs better policies for addressing vacancies and unmanageable workloads, especially for English-as-a-second language (ESL) teachers.

“The [union] members are supposed to have input on that, which is why we go through the negotiation process,” he said.

In response to those criticisms, JCTA president Brent McKim pointed to a “memorandum of understanding” in the proposed extension, which commits the district and union leadership to continue discussions on working conditions.

“So if teachers have issues they wanted to see addressed, the contract extension package assures an opportunity to do so,” McKim said in an email to WFPL News.

Ivonne Rovira, a JCTA board member who represents staff at a group of elementary schools, said she felt it was important for members to understand that the memorandum is not a guarantee that certain working conditions will be addressed.

“There’s no limit to the caseloads for the ESL teachers at all. You can have 70 students on your caseload, which is a crime,” Rovira said. “There’s no specific schedule for any additional wage increases. There’s nothing about how we’ll address the teacher shortages, or absolute protections for planning periods.”

Rovira said union policies prevent her from sharing how she voted or speaking against leadership’s ultimate decision. But she did share that the board vote was not unanimous and pointedly added that the decision not to negotiate a new contract comes, “at the time when teachers have the greatest pull they’ve had since the last time we went on strike in the early 2000s.”

Like many districts, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is grappling with staffing and teacher shortages. Last year, JCPS saw an eight-year high in teacher resignations. Meanwhile, far fewer college students are entering teacher preparation programs.

Gies said he doesn’t understand why union leadership decided not to ask for more, at a time when teachers hold so many cards.

“We would hope that our union can be very strong and united and active in advocating for us — our own members,” he said.

Gies said he applied to be on the JCTA negotiations team but was not accepted. During the application process earlier this fall, Gies said he was told negotiations would ramp up in January and February, and continue into the summer.

That’s why he was surprised to receive an email from JCTA leadership last week informing members about the proposed contract extension that could be approved by the end of the month.

McKim told WFPL News that negotiating the 5% raise now will help with teacher recruitment efforts.

“Being able to point to this large 5% raise now will help our recruiters attract new teachers to JCPS. And that is what we must do if we are going to be successful in addressing the teacher shortage here,” McKim said in an email.

JCTA members have until 5 p.m. Friday to vote on the contract extension.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.