LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Board of Education is asking Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear to weigh in on whether it ought to be Beshear's office -- and not a third-party legal contractor – that reviews the district’s labor contracts with unions as part of a wide-ranging audit by the Kentucky Department of Education.

As part of its “management review” of JCPS, the state education department wants to hire an outside law firm or legal contractor to evaluate the district’s labor contracts, such as the one covering about 6,000 teachers represented by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

But in a letter dated Monday, Jefferson County school board Chairman Chris Brady said the board believes Beshear – not an outside firm -- is the “appropriate person” under state law to render an opinion on the district’s union contracts.

“The members of the board are willing to cooperate fully with a legal review of the collective bargaining agreements currently in effect between JCPS and its employees, as the members of the board believe that the collective bargaining agreements are lawful, were negotiated in good faith, are consistent with good practices and so not in any way constitute critically ineffective or inefficient management of JCPS,” Brady wrote in the letter to Beshear.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt shot back Tuesday, saying he will not change his plan to hire an a third-party to review JCPS' union contracts.

"I will not be swayed in my position by a member, or members of the local board of education who choose to obstruct this effort," Pruitt said in an emailed statement.

Brady's letter, which was not approved by the board, was sent by email and snail mail.

In an interview Tuesday, Brady said he’s concerned that a firm hired by the state might be “biased” against the district and its relationships with unions.

“The way this RFP was written, it was written with a particular agenda in mind,” Brady said.

Brady was supported by the teachers union in his re-election bid in 2016. Beshear, a Democrat, also has union support.

But Brady denied that politics played any role in the board’s objection to the legal contractor.

“I look at this asking the attorney general for an independent review,” he said.

The state RFP asks that the contractor evaluate whether the labor contracts and the “negotiations and board policies” surrounding them “contribute to the critically ineffective or inefficient management of JCPS.”

In addition, the contractor "will provide an opinion regarding the bargained contracts and the negotiations and policies’ compliance with the Kentucky Constitution’s restriction on the expenditure of school funds for 'educational purposes only' as well as other federal and Kentucky laws."

The proposals for the RFP were due by May 24 and the length of the contract is listed through June 30, 2018; however, a KDE spokeswoman said Tuesday that the department reissued the RFP to get additional response and proposals are now due by June 29, 2017. 

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt ordered the sweeping management audit of JCPS in February. It outlined 32 findings from a management review he ordered last July amid concerns about student safety, data integrity issues, questions about culture and poor communication in JCPS.

At the time, Pruitt said the state has never conducted an audit on the scale of the review its conducting in JCPS. He said it requires "all hands on deck" from his department and that he could seek the services of outside educators who may have expertise in issues encountered by large, urban districts. 

Under state law, a management audit includes an investigation of the district's compliance with state and federal laws, administrative regulations and local board policies and will ultimately help Pruitt decide what needs to happen next.

The district's bargaining contract between the Jefferson County Teachers Association has been scrutinized by state officials before.

A December 2010 report by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability that focused on the effect of collective-bargaining agreements between districts and teachers unions and their impact on teacher hiring and evaluations found Jefferson County’s agreement to be the most “comprehensive and cumbersome” in the state. 

In 2011, former Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday directly criticized the collective-bargaining agreement between the district and the JCTA, saying the contract at some points "seemingly promotes adult interests over that of student interests."

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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