Kentucky’s Department of Education is trying to get a handle on problems with labor union contracts negotiated by the state’s largest school district.
Last month, the agency sent out a request for contractors to review the collective bargaining negotiations and agreements between Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and its union. This is part of a sweeping audit of the school system to find out “whether the contracts were negotiated in good faith, followed best practices and focused only on areas that were permissive subjects of bargaining, among other things,” as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The planned review has ignited a turf war of sorts. The school board chairman is campaigning for the state Attorney General, Andy Beshear, to conduct the review, instead. But regardless of who does the review, there’s at least one big problem in need of public scrutiny: so-called “association leave.” It may sound benign, but it amounts to a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the Jefferson County Teachers Association.
Association leave grants teachers paid time off from the classroom to perform union business unrelated to their job duties. Instead of educating students, teachers receive a significant amount of paid leave to perform union activities on the taxpayer dime. No one knows how much is money is wasted on association time. Neither the school district nor the union publicize the cost or amount of association leave they receive.
In terms of number of days wasted, the union is supposed to get 275 full days of association leave annually. Apparently, the union has been known to blow past that limit, according to a 2010 analysis of Kentucky District collective bargaining agreements conducted by the Legislative Research Commission Office of Education Accountability. The “OEA discovered that the number of days permitted by JCPS Human Resources staff far exceeded the number of days allowed in the contract.”
Another question is: what exactly are public employees doing while they’re on association leave? The union’s contract states association leave is “for attendance at regional, state or national meetings for the conduct of necessary Association business.” Already, some evidence suggests those limitations don’t garner much respect.
My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sent public records requests to the school district asking for the activity performed by JCTA members on association leave during fiscal year 2013. Here are some of the activities union members performed instead of serving the students of Jefferson County: attended JCTA board meetings, as well as organizing committee meetings; union staff interviews; National Education Association conferences; and board meetings of Jobs with Justice (a union front group that conducts campaigns against employers).
Clearly, association leave isn’t serving any public purpose or helping to educate children. Tax dollars need to go to the classroom, a sentiment expressed by Andrew Bailey, a JCPS high school teacher and board member during contract negotiations in 2014. Meanwhile, Bailey himself had spent days away from the classroom to perform union activity, according to CEI’s public records request.
Unfortunately, the scope of the problem is bigger than one school district. Numerous city governments and schools districts, like the City of Louisville, needlessly pay public employees to perform union business unrelated to their public duties while paid by the taxpayer.
It’s a good start that the Department of Education is scrutinizing one school district’s union contracts, but now they need to take action to root out the waste in it. Kentucky taxpayers deserve an explanation for how giving away their tax dollars to unions count as a proper use of their money.
Guest columnist Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.