LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools employees met face-to-face Monday with those who suggested freezing their salaries. 

The district held two briefings with the Management Advisory Group (MAG), the independent consultant that conducted the salary study regarding the district’s compensation and pay structure. It's the first time since 1979 that JCPS has had an outside company study the salaries of every job in the district. 

The study, which cost the district $192,000 and was presented during a school board work session on April 26, found that JCPS pays premium salaries to its teachers, which provides a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining quality instructors, but that more than 7,353 positions in the district pay at or above the maximum of the market pay range.

Carolyn Long, executive vice president of MAG, told the three dozen attendees at the two meetings that the goal of the salary study was to develop salary schedules and ranges and provide recommendations for implementation.

"What we do is outline the findings," she said, adding that her organization suggested that salaries exceeding the maximum range should be frozen. 

She added that "not all jobs titles are over-market" and that the goal is to "reconcile pay ranges with the external market."

District officials had told the school board on April 26 that as part of the district’s “next steps,” they would bring two recommendations to the school board on May 10. Those recommendations, which came from a “Community Advisory Team” comprised of district administrators and community members, included no “step” or cost of living increases in 2016-17 for all employees earning more than $14 an hour. 

It also included a plan to ask the school board for permission to negotiate a percentage increase in 2016-17 for only those employees earning less than $14 an hour.

However, the district never brought the salary study recommendations to the school board for approval on May 10, saying the recommendations are first subject to negotiations with the district's unions.

Approximately three dozen people attended the two meetings and at times, the discussion became heated over the study's methodology, with teachers questioning why so few of the comparison districts were in states that don't have collective bargaining.

Others said they questioned the recommendations the study is producing.

"In my view, (they) aren't valid because they don't take into consideration all of the other very relative criteria," said James Hughley.

Long said collective bargaining in terms of doing a classification and compensation study is irrelevant, saying that "the market is what the market is."

Another teacher said some states don't require a master's degree for teaching like Kentucky does.

"Approximately 84 percent of our teachers have master’s degrees," said Alan Young, a JCPS resource teacher. "One of the districts we were compared with has less than 29 percent of teachers with master's degrees. How is that a fair comparison?"

Tom Hudson, the district's chief business officer said the reason behind the salary freeze was to give JCPS a chance to "pause" while it determines how to "make sure everyone is dealt with fairly."

"We need to have balance at the top and balance at the bottom," he said. 

Another JCPS teacher said the criteria should have included workplace environment.

"Are you looking at working conditions?" the male teacher asked, saying his job has gotten more difficult in recent years due to student misbehavior in the classroom. "And I'm being told that I make too much?"

Long said she understands the frustrations that many have had with the study.

"This was a very complicated, very difficult study," she said. "I wish I was standing here and saying something different. My role was to look at the market and come back and tell you what I find."

"The implications (in other districts) have internally (been) positive," she said. "I don’t think it has been perceived as positive here. I understand, I truly do, thinking that maybe if we had used a different mix, maybe the results would be different."

Long said it's possible that other districts could have been chosen, but that it’s hard to think it would be “sea-change” difference.

April Raines, a teacher at Pleasure Ridge Park High School, said she felt disrespected over the district's suggestion of a salary freeze and comments made by some officials.

"I am outraged because I got disrespected," she said. "And that we were told we misunderstood what we heard."

Superintendent Donna Hargens admitted she initially thought that completion of the salary study would be celebrated by the community because it showed that the district was paying a "premium" in salaries to employees.

"Competitive salaries are a good thing," she said, but added that instead of celebrating, "it got interpreted differently."

As the district moves forward, Hargens said officials need to figure out how to "maintain and sustain fair salaries" for all of the district's employees.

"That is the challenge ahead," she said. 

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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