LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A major reorganization of Jefferson County Public Schools is on tap for next week’s school board meeting, and the head of one labor union is urging board members to delay action on the plan until it can be further vetted.
At least one Jefferson County Board of Education member agrees and says she wishes the district would slow down in its efforts to reorganize central office administration.
The reorganization, which JCPS officials believe will save the district nearly $1.4 million a year, is part of Superintendent Marty Pollio’s push to improve efficiency within the administration of Kentucky’s largest school district and send more money to its 156 schools.
The anticipated $1.4 million in annual savings will “exponentially grow because we’re also taking a look at some of the pay systems and structures in central office, especially as we get into hires,” Pollio said.
“We think over the next decade it’s going to make a major impact on repurposing money from central office funding to our schools, and that’s where we want to be,” he told WDRB News. “What we have found is our kids need incredible amounts of supports, so that can be wraparound services that we’re already starting to do. That can be safety and security. It’s academic intervention like our summer backpack league at the cost of about $1.5 million.
“All of these are really new ways of doing things to support kids, and we’ve got to make tough decisions.”
Those tough decisions include the elimination of 229 jobs, 75 of them vacant, and the creation of 155 new ones; cutting the amount of work days for numerous positions throughout district administration; and altering pay grades for many jobs.
On the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting, a description of the reorganization says 87 administrators will see their pay grades lowered while 25 others will be bumped up. Anyone who has their pay downgraded will keep their current salaries for a year.
The proposal’s impact on administrators has alarmed Warren Shelton, executive director of the Jefferson County Association of School Administrators. If administrators who have their pay grades lowered are held harmless for a year, Shelton believes the entire plan should be postponed to better evaluate possible changes to JCPS staffing.
“If they can do that for a year, I think they can take additional time to study it since there’s really no rush,” Shelton told WDRB News.
Linda Duncan, who represents District 5 on the school board, also said she hoped the process of reorganizing central office would “slow down.” She likes the plan as a “blueprint” for future staffing changes, but with so many questions that she can’t answer about its ramifications, Duncan said she can’t support it with a vote mere days away.
“I’ll get more things explained I’m sure as we go through the weekend, but at this point I’m uncomfortable about not being able to answer the questions that people are asking about some of these positions and why they are changed or how they’re changed,” said Duncan, who said she first received details of the reorganization on Friday.
“This is a huge undertaking, and I feel like we’re doing it in a hurry,” she said.
Duncan and Shelton share concerns about the plan’s impact on school psychologists, whose work days would be cut from 200 to 195 and their pay grades dropped a level. The vast majority of school psychologists would work under the district’s head of Exceptional Child Education rather than their current assignments in Academic Services, according to the proposed organizational chart and job description included in Tuesday’s agenda.
Shelton says some may not realize that the district’s psychologists aren’t limited to assessing JCPS students.
“They do all students in Jefferson County,” said Shelton, whose union represents school psychologists. “If you’re in private school or home school or anything, they have to conduct those assessments and reassessments.
“They are being cut back, and they are very concerned about it.”
Ten assistant directors of pupil personnel and 15 social workers who focus on student attendance will be among the jobs cut if the reorganization is approved, according to deleted job descriptions and the proposed organization chart.
Under the proposal, the district’s director of pupil personnel will have 12 associate attendance systems coordinators, six focusing on elementary schools and six working in secondary schools. Two assessment counselors would also have their work days cut from 260 to 220, according to the proposed organization chart.
Pollio said JCPS needs to rethink its approach to improving attendance at its schools, saying the district’s attendance rates, through no fault of those who work to boost them, have been relatively flat since 2000. This year, the district launched an initiative to encourage every JCPS school to have attendance rates of at least 96.5%.
“We have some excellent examples of schools who have made major impact on the amount of students that are chronically absent in their school by developing systems,” said Pollio, noting that about 55,000 students missed six or more school days last year.
“So essentially what we’re doing is we’re not eliminating the work around attendance that the social workers did and the ADPPs. What we are doing is establishing positions here that are going to support schools in developing systems at their schools for improvement in attendance.”
He also noted that the school board increased the number of mental health professionals in schools to 100 in February, adding that social workers affected by job cuts meet the job qualifications for those jobs and can apply to fill them.
Those mental health counselors will be working in every school in the district, with every high school, middle school and low-performing elementary school getting one mental health professional apiece, he said.
“Schools are going to see, I believe, a much greater impact on this work as a result of our steps we’re taking,” Pollio said. “Without a doubt, I don’t consider it to be a reduction in wraparound services. I consider it to be a dramatic increase in wraparound services.”
Duncan worried that the new mental health practitioner jobs will not attract social workers or school psychologists affected in the proposed reorganization since such a move would likely be a step down in pay.
While some positions will be cuts, some administrators will see their pay jump once the reorganization, if approved, takes effect July 1.
Six directors – those in charge of nutrition services, transportation, security and investigations, personnel, strategy, and research and evaluation – will have their job titles changed to executive administrators and their pay grades upped one or two levels if the proposed changes are approved.
Pollio said such changes will provide uniformity to some of the district’s top jobs.
“What we’ve ended up having is just a multitude of different levels of positions at different pay grades, and we’re really trying to do what I call organizational coherence, which is to align every single position so that all directors are aligned at the same position with the same responsibility and oversight,” he said.
Other unions representing JCPS workers haven’t joined JCASA’s call for a delay in Tuesday’s reorganization vote.
DeeAnn Flaherty, executive director of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said her organization has not taken a position on the proposal but has voiced its concerns about changes to certain positions with JCPS. She did not elaborate when asked which specific job impacts worried JCTA.
“They are not resolved yet but we feel like we’re making progress,” Flaherty said in a message to WDRB News.
Sue Foster, who represents JCPS support personnel as president of AFSCME Local 4011, said Pollio has assured her that none of her members will be laid off or see cuts in their work days or pay grades. Pollio told WDRB News that support workers, mostly hourly employees, affected in the proposal would be overstaffed and placed in jobs with the same pay elsewhere within the district.
“I will ensure that this is not done on the backs of our support personnel,” Foster said. “… At this time we have no reason to doubt Dr. Pollio’s word. We’re going to hold him to that.”
Even if the plan is approved by the school board, Shelton says he is exploring legal options to protect his union’s members who are impacted by the proposed job changes and have attained administrative tenure.
Prospects of legal recourse, however, may be impacted by a new law set to hit the books in late June that will allow Pollio to demote administrative staff at will and strip them of tenure.
From Pollio’s perspective, the proposed reorganization will lead to a stronger school system.
“If we’re going to support our kids and support our schools, we have to make tough decisions and do things in a different way,” he said.
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