By Victor Skinner

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A group of Jefferson County ministers say they know what’s keeping too many African-American students from succeeding in school, and they’re demanding the school board do something about it.

They believe the current collective bargaining agreement between the Jefferson County Public School District and its teachers union, the Jefferson County Teachers Association, is too restrictive.

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The group held a news conference this week as a new union contract is being negotiated, calling on the school board to demand more flexibility to hire and fire teachers based on their abilities, and to give students more access to their teachers, WDRB reports.

“We want them to have more access to teachers, time before school and time after school. We feel that the (current) contract restricts that access of students to teachers,” said Frank Smith, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition.

“JCPS really means, and has meant for too long, Just Caucasian Pupils Succeed. We will not tolerate that,” said Pastor Kevin Crosby, president of Simmons College.

“That contract with the union must not hinder our children from getting a quality education,” Jerry Stephenson, state director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told WDRB.

The ministers are dead on with their assessment of the biggest problem facing the district’s schools. It’s the same problem that’s infected most failing public school districts around the country.

Teachers union collective bargaining agreements drag down student achievement by prioritizing teacher job security over student learning.

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The ministers understand that to improve public education, particularly for minority students, school districts must ditch the union seniority system, which breeds mediocrity, in favor of an evaluation and compensation system that considers teacher effectiveness.

They realize union work rules prevent teachers and school staff from doing their jobs as well as they could, and they’re demanding important changes.

They also understand those changes are unlikely as long as the union contract is negotiated behind closed doors. The ministers want the district and union to open up negotiations to the public to ensure their concerns are being taken seriously.

“The public has a right to know what is being said and what is happening behind closed doors,” said Milton Seymore, pastor of Energized Baptist Church and chairman of the Justice Resource Center.

Union President Brent McKim told the television station he was too busy with negotiations to respond. The district, however, doesn’t seem very interested in increased transparency.

“We are in the middle of negotiations, and in order to continue bargaining in good faith, it’s unfair for us to publicly discuss these negotiations. As the preamble to the contract states, ‘The welfare of the children of Jefferson County is paramount and will be promoted by both parties,’” a statement from the district

We wonder who would be hurt if the district shined some light on negotiations – the union, the public, or the minority students who currently receive a crappy education?

If the district refuses to act on the minsters’ demands, we hope the group makes it painfully clear to school leaders that they will be held accountable at election time.