Experienced Black Female Educator Challenges Status Quo

There’s an election going on. A very important election. For the first time in 20 years, ever since the sitting president removed term limits for himself and his loyal accomplices so they could remain in power, he and his white incumbents face a very a real threat from dissatisfied rank-and-file members

A Black, female educator, with 13 years recent and relevant classroom experience, not to mention private sector leadership experience — and who spent her lifetime in Black skin — is challenging the controversial white, male incumbent for the top leadership position.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association is one of just a handful of teachers unions in Kentucky that has a treasured collective bargaining agreement. They represent over 6,000 certified teachers, working in 150 plus schools, which range from 9% Black to 92% Black. And while the student population is around 50% white overall, some schools are 78% white, while others are just 2% white.1

Unfortunately, only about 24% of JCPS teachers are Black, leading to disconnects not only between students and their teachers, but also between Black teachers and their white peers. Many Black educators have told us they frequently experience hostility, have had grievances filed against them, and even experienced demotions after simply drawing attention to harmful behaviors or advocating for racial justice on behalf of their students or peers. They also have told us that their union has been at best, MIA and at worst, complicit, in the pursuit of justice in these matters.

One of the bills that has already passed the House and Senate and was vetoed by the Governor sits precariously waiting for the super majority GOP session to resume on Feb. 2, 2021. McConnell-like predators who remain in office have passed bills to strip the governor of his powers, including his ability to reorganize boards and committees, like he did with Education. That’s why House Bill 5 is dangerous for teachers’ pensions.

Couple that with House Bill 258, which is the new pension plan that the union has endorsed, puts new teachers in a hybrid plan, cutting off funding to the current plan. It’s sponsored by none other than Jerry Miller, of “sewer bill fame.” 

Watch Kentucky Teacher Pension Swan Song to learn why financial experts believe these bills, if passed, will be the final blow to the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.

But that’s not all. The teachers’ union holds lots of seats at lots of tables, and has run roughshod over delicate coalition-building work around racial justice for some time now. Efforts by Dear JCPS and others to elevate impacted community voices have been derailed on numerous occasions, when union leadership disagreed with the opinions of those in consensus. It’s what led to Dear JCPS’s resignation from AROS last July

I believe today’s events regarding implications that an email we sent to candidates was somehow improper or unethical, are another example of the same. One of the members of The People’s Agenda’s 17-person decision making council, who voted on our slate of candidates, also currently serves on the JCTA Board alongside some of the candidates our nominees are challenging.

When she did not agree with some of the nominating committee’s recommendations, she made her concerns known on every call that she attended and in chat conversations. She even made numerous calls between meetings to try to express her concerns about being on the same slate with another candidate she did not like. When pressed, her only rationale had nothing to do with his platform, track record or credentials, but only that she “never liked him” and when she met him years ago her “spirit was uneasy.” 

Due to her continued grandstanding, we decided to take additional steps to attempt to reach out to all downballot candidates who had challengers and give them another opportunity to seek endorsement. An email was sent to more than two dozen candidates. When none of the emails showed on the campaign reporting software to have ever been opened, I reached out to a few of them and asked them to look for it to make sure it hadn’t been blocked like it was last time. Only those who I told about it opened it. That changed Thursday and one of the candidates actually filled out our request. As requested, she willingly provided her home email address, phone number and t-shirt size. Additional questions were sent for follow up, which she did not reply to. The nominating committee sent around its first round of downballot endorsements, and due to lack of differentiating information, her challenger was nominated instead.

When it was time to call for the vote, the above-mentioned vocal objector to the slate was the only “no.” Having been unsuccessful in her lobbying efforts on behalf of status quo candidates, one of whom was her cousin, she appears to have decided to go around the council to try to have our work derailed using other channels. For example, in an attempt to sully the candidates on our slate, confidential information only 17 of us would on the Council would have had access to was shared with JCTA leadership, who then forwarded this and another email to all of the candidates, implying our Coalition was doing something wrong, although we were not.

This is not new. Many folks doing this work alongside me can tell you the same thing happened when the majority of organizations in AROS came to a consensus last May to conduct a campaign around a pledge to support the tax increase, only to have it vetoed by one member group that had not even been in attendance during that meeting.

Others will tell you about the time when an attempted state takeover of JCPS was announced, white JCTA leaders abandoned the structure and working relationships that had been cultivated in AROS, only to form “Our JCPS” and pick and choose whose voice was heard at the table. I continued to witness Black teachers, parents and students pushed out of decision making, denied and delayed justice and be attacked and discredited. For speaking up, I was similarly “uninvited” from the conversations, maligned, and attacked by white leaders and their white peers from other unions.

So, for those concerned about “outside influences” and whether it’s any of our business to interfere with teachers’ unions elections, hopefully this history provides a little bit of insight as to the ways the entrenched union leadership has interfered with attempts to bring justice to Black, Brown, poor, and marginalized JCPS students, teachers and families, and in particular those living in West Louisville. But if not, the voices of the current and former members who have asked us to intervene on their behalf, should not be dismissed.

One final note: At the request of some candidates who may have been endorsed but have been poisoned against the idea of candidates running as a slate (although that is what the white incumbents are currently doing), I want to make one thing abundantly clear. Although support and resources, including a $400 marketing budget, are available to endorsed candidates, at this time, none of them have accepted our offer. We will continue our work supporting and elevating candidates who share the vision of the People’s Agenda Education Committee, which includes:

  • Democratic and transparent elections and endorsements;
  • Fight privatization of public education, including protecting and funding pensions, and preventing vouchers;
  • Racial Justice for Students and Teachers, including plans for a safe return to school for EVERYONE!

Supporting documentation for all of the claims made above will be published here or at as soon as possible.

Stay tuned to this blog for more information about the JCTA election, which runs from 6 AM Wednesday, Jan. 27 through 5 PM Wednesday, Feb. 3.