Courtesy of Pxhere

The local teachers union and Jefferson County Public Schools “are making slow but steady progress” on negotiations for a new contract, the union president said.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that we will conclude our negotiations and have a new agreement before the current contract expires,” said Brent McKim, president of Jefferson County Teachers Association.

The current five-year contract, which covers about 6,500 teachers, expires June 30.

The parties this week declined to talk about details they’re discussing, but McKim told Insider that teachers “are asking for a raise.”

Brent McKim

McKim said teacher salaries had lost ground during the tenure of the then-Superintendent Donna Hargens, who resigned last year.

Starting teachers at JCPS earn $42,700 per year. At the high end, teachers with 26 years of experience and 30 hours of education beyond a master’s degree make $83,700.

McKim has said most teachers had six or seven years of experience and earned about $52,000 per year. The national median for teachers is near $60,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but earnings vary significantly from state to state, or even within the same state, from metro to rural districts.

The bulk of the contract generally covers five years, though the parties typically revisit salaries every one to two years.

McKim previously had acknowledged that the district is bargaining within tight fiscal constraints. Some of the district’s funding streams have slowed at the state level at the same time that some expenditures, including contributions for the retirement system of employees other than teachers, are accelerating.

The district’s chief financial officer, Cordelia Hardin, had told Insider in February that in her 27 years she had never seen the kinds of state cuts coming that were being proposed in the legislative session. She also said that 2018 would be a “very difficult year” in which to prepare the next school year’s budget.

Thanks in part to economic growth and rising property values, though, the district remains on sound financial footing. At the end of the 2016/17 school year, JCPS had a General Fund balance of $154 million, or 14.7 percent of expenditures, which is above the 10 percent generally recommended by bond rating companies. The General Fund is the district’s main operating fund and pays for such expenditures as personnel.

Contract negotiations are taking place at a time of intense focus on the district, which, with 100,000 students, is by far the state’s largest. Kentucky interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has recommended that the state take over management of district because a 14-month audit showed a pattern of ineffective leadership. The district is challenging the recommendation.

District critics have pointed to the union contract as one of the culprits for the district’s underperforming schools, which has reinforced concerns among teachers that a state-appointed manager could interfere in or stop negotiations, or even void any contract. A labor law attorney has told Insider that the vagaries of some of the laws and a lack of precedent likely will require a court to resolve any dispute between the state and the district.

JCPS would not say anything this week beyond that negotiations with the union “are ongoing.”

Any new contract would have to be approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education, which next meets at 7 p.m. June 26.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.