Jefferson County Public Schools said Tuesday that it has discovered that a controversial salary study that was released in April has a major mistake that made it seem that the district was paying a lot more in "premium" salaries than it is.
In April, the state's largest school district released information from an outside contractor that said in part that JCPS was paying between $52 million and $66 million in "premium" salaries for certified administrators and classified staff – non-teachers – when compared to similar school districts around the country.
But on Tuesday, Superintendent Donna Hargens said that Virginia-based Management Advisory Group International Inc., which conducted the salary study, had "grossly overestimated" the salaries that JCPS paid to non-teacher employees compared to other benchmark school districts.
Instead of spending $50 million or more in "premium" salaries for non-teachers, the figure is closer to $10 million to $14 million, Hargens told the school board Tuesday.
"To say that this district is outraged is an understatement," Hargens said. "This study caused employees to feel unvalued and underappreciated. It also caused significant stress between employees at different levels. A $40-million mistake by MAG is unacceptable. MAG owes the district, its employees, this board and this community an apology."
The release of the salary study in April —as well as a district discussion about the idea of not giving step raises or cost of living increases in the 2016-17 school year for any employee making more than $14 an hour as "market reconciliation" — caused immediate outrage among JCPS employees and others in the community.
JCPS employees staged massive "walk-ins" at numerous district schools in the spring to show their outrage over the salary study and other issues.
JCPS paid MAG $192,000 for the salary study. It is unclear whether JCPS will be getting any refund. The salary study began in December 2014 and was made public in April 2016.
Hargens on Tuesday referenced communication between the district and an attorney for MAG — even quoting part of a letter from MAG's attorney that she said showed that MAG takes responsibility for the error.
A JCPS spokeswoman on Tuesday evening said she did not immediately have a copy of the letter that Hargens referenced.
"We are exploring our legal options regarding MAG," spokeswoman Allison Martin said.
JCPS has known about the error since January, Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin said, saying that the district has been going back and forth with MAG since.
When asked if the error was contained to non-teacher salaries, Hardin said she wasn't sure and that her focus was on the non-teacher part of the study.
"We're not going to make any changes based strictly on that report," Hardin said.
Board member Chris Kolb noted that "prominent voices in our community" have been using the numbers in the salary study to push for policy changes — an apparent reference to former board chairman David Jones Jr., who has been saying JCPS could free up money for roughly 1,000 more teachers or employees by revamping JCPS' salary structure.
Board chairman Chris Brady said that he is "deeply disappointed" to learn of the mistake, saying he believes it did "real damage" in the district. He thanked the district for finding the error.
However, Brady said that a salary study was needed for the district, which had not had such a comprehensive compensation review since 1979.
Brady said the district is looking at its options in its contract with MAG, but noted that "it may cost more than it's worth to seek some kind of restitution."
Brady said he was "almost not surprised" by the discovery of the error, because the numbers in the salary study didn't seem right to him.
Brent McKim, president of the county's teachers union, had the same sentiment, saying he had long been saying that it didn't seem feasible that JCPS was so significantly paying employees above the averages of comparable markets.
"The math just didn't make sense for $50 million," McKim said. He added that "What's surprising is they make an error this big and take this long to find it. ... This has disrupted many people's lives and caused a great deal of stress."And this:
JCPS contractor: Study still good despite error
The contractor that compiled a salary study for Jefferson County Public Schools admits its error made it seem the district was paying a lot more in "premium" salaries than it actually was, but said the error was limited to a supplemental report and does not negate the entire study.
"There was one error in one report, and we took responsibility for that," said Carolyn Long, vice president of Virginia-based Management Advisory Group International Inc., which conducted the salary study.
Long said the roughly $40 million error was in some extra information her firm provided as a courtesy in an addition to the original report on salaries that JCPS had requested. She said that JCPS has "conflated the error in the ancillary" file with the more than year's worth of work her company did for JCPS.
"It's a very long study and it was a very detailed and complex undertaking," Long said. "There were a lot of moving parts to it."
Still, the revelation of the error on Tuesday caused a new round of furor this week over the controversial salary study that was originally released in April.
"That salary study hurt us during contract negotiations," said John Stovall, president of the local teamsters union. "(Is JCPS) going to come back and renegotiate raises because this salary study was flawed?"
In April, the state's largest school district released information from Management Advisory Group that said in part that JCPS was paying between $52 million and $66 million in "premium" salaries for certified administrators and classified staff – nonteachers – when compared to similar school districts around the country.
But on Tuesday, Superintendent Donna Hargens said an error meant that MAG had "grossly overestimated" the salaries that JCPS paid to nonteacher employees compared to other benchmark school districts.
Carolyn Long, Exec VP
Instead of spending $50 million or more in "premium" salaries for nonteachers, the figure is closer to about $14 million, Hargens told the school board Tuesday.
At issue was apparently a miscalculation — which MAG said was caused by a "computational error" — that caused some employees' annualized salaries to be misrepresented.
For instance, a spreadsheet given to the Courier-Journal by JCPS Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin shows the example of an intervention specialist whose annualized salary was calculated at $164,563 instead of $117,816.
When the salary study was initially released in April, the findings —as well as a district discussion about an idea of not giving step raises or cost of living increases in the 2016-17 school year — caused immediate outrage among JCPS employees and others in the community.
In the spring, JCPS employees staged massive "walk-ins" at numerous district schools to show their outrage over the salary study and other issues.
Stovall said the initial release of the salary study caused employees to feel undervalued and underappreciated for the work they do. He said that now, his members feel like the error is a "slap in the face."
Ron Richmond, political director for the regional chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed.
Richmond said more than 4,000 of his union's members were "directly impacted by this miscalculation" and said he hopes JCPS will take action over the flawed results.
JCPS paid MAG $192,000 for the salary study. The salary study began in December 2014 and was made public in April 2016.
In a Feb. 22 letter, an attorney for MAG told JCPS that the company "completely, professionally and credibly completed the contractual requirements at issue," saying that the report with the error was provided to JCPS as a courtesy.
JCPS on Tuesday said it was exploring its legal options regarding its contract with MAG.
The question now is on what, if anything, JCPS plans to do to alter its salary structure. Hargens said that the error in the MAG calculations was found in January as the district was working on figuring out options for a future compensation structure.
Angie Moorin, a member of the community advisory team that looked over and provided recommendations based on the salary study, said it is hard for her to wrap her head around the error found in the report "because I think about the fallout that came about because of that (study)."
She said the discovery of the error "changes the urgency of addressing" the issue of restructuring JCPS salaries. She said that she still thinks there are better ways to allocate some of JCPS' money, but said the initial numbers provided by MAG about the "premium" salaries made it sound like "there was this spigot that was wide open that needed to be addressed."
Moorin noted that "you can't make good decisions with bad numbers" and wants to learn more about any other potential issues with the study.
Former JCPS board chairman David Jones Jr., who has been saying JCPS could free up money for roughly 1,000 more teachers or employees by revamping JCPS' salary structure, said he was "appalled that there could be an error of this magnitude."
But it doesn't change the fact, he said, that JCPS needs to do something different in restructuring to find more money to put in classrooms.
"There is some very very hard work ahead on restructuring the organization and on finding the resources that are required to get the (district's) strategy funded," Jones said.