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JCPS employees to keep pandemic stipends, receive paid parental leave

School desks in a classroom
Jess Clark
Members of the union representing JCPS custodians welcomed a decision Tuesday by the Jefferson County Board of Education to keep their $3.50 hourly pandemic pay boost next year.

The Jefferson County Board of Education approved a tentative budget that preserves pandemic-era boosts in pay, and gives employees paid parental leave for the first time.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to give all district employees at least six weeks of paid parental leave next school year. It’s the first time Jefferson County Public Schools will be offering paid time off to staff who welcome new children into their families.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said, given the personnel shortages schools are facing, he anticipates paid parental leave “is going to be in every district within the next five years.”

“So I clearly believe we should be on the front end of that,” he said. “We should be giving everything we possibly can to support our employees to attract them to Jefferson County.”

Board members unanimously voted to add at least six weeks of paid parental leave into the tentative 2024-2025 budget they approved at their meeting. The board hasn’t settled on how many weeks employees would receive. They directed staff to explore and present policy options. Staff would likely be eligible for that leave once school starts in August.

The move to add paid family leave comes after an online organizing campaign by the ACLU of Kentucky left board members inundated with emails in support of the policy change.

The budget also preserves all of the pay boosts many employees have been receiving as a result of federal pandemic relief funds. That includes the $3.50 hourly pay bump JCPS custodians and their union have been lobbying the board to keep.

Norton Commons Elementary School Custodian Jeremy Small noted during his comments to the board that Pollio received a significantly larger raise than many other employees.

“Last year the board approved a 27% raise to [Pollio] bringing his salary to $350,244,” Small said.

“I don't know of any time where those kinds of raises have been approved for us — the workers who keep your schools running.”

Small later said he was “very happy” with the board’s decision to maintain the pandemic pay.

Overall, the tentative $1.9 billion budget maintains many programs started through federal pandemic funding or the 2020 tax increase, including extra funding for high-needs schools, previous pay raises for staff, expanded summer learning, and the Elev8 learning center.

JCPS Chief Financial Officer Eddie Muns said his office predicts a deficit of nearly $66 million for the fiscal year. He said the shortfall can be covered by the savings the district has racked up due to unfilled positions, which he estimates to be around $91 million.

JCPS, like many districts, is having a hard time hiring.

Muns said the left over $25 million in vacancy savings should be enough to pay for the new parental leave program.

It’s at least the second year in a row JCPS has budgeted a deficit. The district is at the edge of a fiscal cliff as millions in federal pandemic relief funding expire. Staff say they have been planning for a “soft landing” that doesn’t involve major cuts.

Muns said JCPS higher-ups have been having “very difficult conversations” about which pandemic-era programs to keep and which to cut.

The tentative budget is the second iteration the board approves during the annual budget cycle. A more final “working” budget is usually approved in September after the tax rate is set.

The budget staff drafted is based on a projected 4% growth in local property tax revenues — the district’s main source of funding. That’s the maximum that revenues can grow before voters have the opportunity for a recall referendum.

Because property values have risen in Jefferson County, the board would likely have to decrease the tax rate if they do not want to trigger a recall effort. According to a timeline shared by Muns, it is too late for the board to pass a tax increase for any recall to appear on this November’s ballot.

The board raised taxes in 2020, but has not done so since.

Hundreds sign paid family leave petition  

The ACLU of Kentucky is touting its campaign for paid family leave as one of its most successful actions.

The nonprofit started circulating a form on May 21. Days later more than 800 people had filled out the form, which automatically sent an email to all seven school board members urging them to give employees paid parental leave.

ACLU spokesperson Kate Miller said the campaign may be “the biggest action [the ACLU of Kentucky] ever launched.”

“Like it was going viral, in a way,” said.

The board’s decision follows similar moves by competing districts. The Oldham County Board of Education voted this month to give its employees six weeks of paid parental leave. Also this month the Fayette County Board of Education voted to approve seven weeks for employees in the state’s second-largest school system.

“I don't want to risk a perception that a different district may be better to work in than ours. This is the best district in the state to work in. And I think our paid leave policy should reflect that,” District 2 member Chris Kolb said.

Multiple lawmakers brought bills this past legislative session to give paid family leave to teachers and other government workers statewide. But those measures did not receive the support needed to advance.

This story has been updated.

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

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