JCPS Sends Message to Unions – But Did They Vet the Messenger?

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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There are words you say, and there are messages you send by your actions. And in the case of Jefferson County Public Schools leadership, their actions just said volumes:

They just hired a labor lawyer who helped force the musicians’ union to capitulate, AND who is on the board of a group that supports taking money away from public schools to support non-public schools.

It’s one thing to play hardball. It’s another thing to have the ball bounce back and hit you in the face.

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In the past, the local unions (teachers and staff) have met with administration representatives alone to start the negotiations process. Sometimes, these were the only persons needed, as the negotiations were amicable and collaborative. But not this time.

Just a week before the first meetings were to take place, JCPS brought in a lawyer as part of the process. This was a surprise to the union representatives – but once they learned that this was how it was going to be handled by the district, they had to “lawyer up” as well.

And just who did JCPS decide to hire to help them negotiate with their teachers and staff – the same teachers and staff that they claim to value so dearly?

James U. Smith, of Smith and Smith Attorneys, is a well-known labor lawyer and negotiator. As stated by him, he only represents management, and his reputation certainly precedes him. You can read about his work on behalf of the Louisville Orchestra board – work that included sending a letter to the union telling them that they could not use the words “Louisville Orchestra” in any of their communications. If you want to drive the toughest deal possible, and get the most you can FOR management and FROM the unions, this looks like your man. And if JCPS wanted to send a message to their unions that this was their goal, then I would say their message was heard, loud and clear.

More puzzling to this writer, though, is why the JCPS administration would hire someone who is anti public schools – or at least, supports a movement that ultimately causes harm to the very system paying his fees. I’m speaking of the Smarter Future Council, a part of the EdChoice KY coalition. Let’s quote directly from their web site:

EdChoice Kentucky is a coalition focused on educating the Commonwealth on Scholarship Tax Credit programs, which allow individuals or businesses to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit from state taxes when they contribute to qualified non-profit organizations providing tuition assistance for low- and middle-income students attending non-public schools.

Let’s tease this apart, shall we? If this group gets their program in place, any individual or business that gives money to help students leave the public schools will get a matching tax credit. That’s two goals of the Right accomplished in one statute: cut the money going to fund our shared government, AND tear down our shared public school system by giving money to “non-public schools.”

Mr. Smith is on the council that is listed on their site. So, one has to assume that he supports this proposal. It seems odd, therefore, that JCPS would pay him to negotiate for them, when it appears he is not too interested in strong public schools. Or did they only care about getting the toughest anti-union lawyer they could find, and didn’t do any vetting beyond that?

Of course, if the negotiations blow up, and we get a strike, and people begin throwing up their hands at the turmoil in our local schools, he could sort of humbly say “Well, there is another idea out there …”

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