Public sector salaries are a controversial and sensitive subject.
I have not seen the recent JCPS salary survey presented to the Board last week. But even without seeing it, here are some things I know.
JCPS has great teachers, hard-working bus drivers, excellent administrators, and strong support staff.
Public school systems are largely made up of people with really hard jobs. All of them — classroom teachers and the many people who support schools in various ways.
Employees were surprised with potential salary freezes, and at the same time heard more about possible discipline changes that concerned them. Evidently, they learned of the salary proposal about 30 minutes before its public release at a Board work session.
Coverage of this issue has continued since then, and my Tuesday began by reading that JCPS’s new Chief Business Officer said citizens should be “outraged” at the salaries of these people.
A Chief Business Officer blasting your employees and administration is not particularly good business.
Repeated negative messages instill negative impressions. And, that’s not good for business, either.
The day ended viewing a Courier-Journal cartoon being shared on social media ridiculing administrators, and pitting them against teachers.
The constant drumbeat of derision targeted at central office is disappointing and counterproductive.
The school system has been through attacks on its administration and employees several times over the past few years. There have been major reorganizations to streamline operations and reduce salaries. Why don’t we acknowledge those reorganizations and get on with teaching our children and keeping them safe?
Public salaries will never be low enough to end all complaints.
We pit teachers against administrators. We use words like “bloated,” and “outraged” and “paid at a premium.”
This is all happening in a time of outrage at political and public institutions. We see that daily in the tactics of some of our presidential candidates.
Repeat something often enough and people begin to believe it.
Put the wrong message out there too often, and it’s hard to fix it.
Here are some relevant facts to consider:
Former U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that we should be paying teachers more — from $60,000-$100,000 per year. That would require a significant adjustment of attitude nationwide about valuing teachers. We should be proud that our salaries are competitive.
JCPS is the largest school district in the Commonwealth. The district is divided up into six regions overseen by six assistant superintendents. Did you know that if those regions were school districts, they would be the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th , 8th and 9th largest districts in Kentucky as measured by number of students? That’s the size of JCPS.
To operate an organization of that magnitude takes a professional finance officer and staff, a top-notch human resource team, facility, safety and transportation officials, lawyers, technology experts, school administrators, data and research managers, behavior specialists, school assignment staff, a communications team and a superintendent and deputy superintendents with excellent support staff.
I am glad JCPS pays teachers well, and I have known many experts in central office who keep things running smoothly and who deserve good salaries. They should be rewarded for years of experience and commitment. None of these public servants deserves the public attacks going on now.
Everyone understands that audits and surveys are necessary for continuous improvement. They can provide important guidance. JCPS has studied itself quite a bit in recent years.
Get the salary situation settled fairly and get on with it. Build up the community support for competitive salaries and important initiatives. Publicly support your teachers, appreciate bus drivers and talk about what great work central office staff members do every single day. Repeat that message. The premium on that positive and constructive message is that just happens to be true.