‘Racist’ teachers union blocking black student success in JCPS, pastor says

, Louisville Courier JournalUpdated 11:18 p.m. ET May 8, 2018

The local teachers union is a “racist institution” standing in the way of higher academic achievement for Jefferson County Public Schools’ African-American students, a Louisville pastor said.

Jerry Stephenson, senior pastor of the Midwest Church of Christ, made the comments outside a JCPS board meeting Tuesday night.

Stephenson is a member of the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition, a group of local faith leaders that supports a state takeover of JCPS.

“JCTA is a racist institution,” Stephenson said, referring to the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Stephenson said the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the district has “put a stranglehold” on the school system. He said the contract is to blame for a growing achievement gap between the district’s black students and their white peers.

In particular, the union contract plays a role in where high-quality teachers work, he said.

Brent McKim, the union’s president, called Stephenson’s comments “ridiculous.”

“We’re really proud of what the Jefferson County Teachers Association does to promote equity in our district,” McKim said, adding that the union has had a diversity training program that has been nationally recognized.

“We’re absolutely committed to racial and social justice in our community and have been throughout our entire 50 years of existence,” he said.

The controversy erupted as the school board voted to approve a racial equity policy, the first of its kind in the district. The policy, which was supported by the union, is designed to tackle a number of inequities, including learning materials that exclude the contributions of minorities and barriers to advanced coursework for students of color.

Earlier in the evening, Stephenson had addressed his concerns to the JCPS board.

Stephenson cited a 2010 report from Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission that called the collective bargaining agreement between JCPS and the union the “most comprehensive and cumbersome” in the state.

According to the report, the agreement created a “seniority-driven” staffing policy that resulted inexperienced teachers requesting transfers to high-performing schools, rather than remaining in low-performing schools where their skills and experience are most valuable.

“Brent McKim is one of the biggest impediments to the academic achievement of African-American children,” Stephenson said.

McKim said he had conversations with Stephenson about his concerns “some time ago,” but that the two haven’t spoken in the past couple of years.

“I don’t know why in the world he would make a personal attack like that,” McKim said.

“I’m certainly committed, as is JCTA, to working for the benefit of all of our students,” he said.

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