Things could not be more tense between the Douglas County School Board and the district teachers' union. After the union and district failed to reach collective bargaining agreement before the last one expired in June, the school board now wants to ask voters in November to cut ties between the district and the union in a more permanent way.
At a Tuesday board meeting, members proposed three potential questions that could appear on the November general election ballot that would severe traditional union-district relationships. According to EdNews Colorado, those questions are as follows:
- Should the district be prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining with the union?
- Should the district be prohibited from using public funding for the compensation of union leaders?
- Should the district be prohibited from collecting union dues from employee paychecks on the union's behalf?
According to The Denver Post, school board member Craig Richardson said the move is intended to help students saying, "Instead of paying the high-dollar salaries of the union executives and a host of other union expenses, we ought to be focusing on restoring our focus on the classroom, both financially and pedagogically." Richardson reportedly went on to say, "I suggest that we consider at the next meeting ballot language that would prohibit the district from ever funding with taxpayer dollars union salaries and public pension benefits going forward."
But Brenda Smith, president of the teachers' union, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees, said to 9News that this is not about the students. "This board is focused on anything but kids in the classroom," Smith said. "What the board is trying to do is basically a power grab. They are trying to limit what future elected officials may want to do and they are basically out of control," Smith added.
7News reports that a small group of parents marched outside the district's administrative building on Thursday in protest against the board's latest actions. 7News spoke with one of the concerned parents, Anne-Marie Lemieux, who has kids that go to school in the Douglas County School District and echoed Smith's sentiments saying that the board is not making decisions in the "best interest of the kids and community" and that they just want to break up the union which, Lemieux says, has worked well in Douglas County.
It has been an extremely contentious couple of years in the DCSD. More than 300 teachers have left Douglas County schools over the course of the last year and the year before that more than 200 teachers left the district, The Denver Post reported. However Brian Cesare, DCSD human resources officer says that the more than 300 teachers who left are less than 10 percent of the total amount of teachers in the district and a 10 percent turnover rate is similar to most metro-area districts.
On Facebook, several pages for DCSD have sprouted up, one called Speak for DCSD has become a forum for teachers and parents where they can speak freely about school district issues anonymously and safely because, as the page states, "many educators in Douglas County do not feel as though they can speak freely." One anonymous teacher posted late Thursday:
Disheartened (Teacher): "I'd like to thank all of the retired DCSD educators (many of whom I know personally or by reputation), parents, and community members who are speaking out on SPEAK or protesting in person for the benefit of teachers. It's sad when we can't feel safe to do either in our district for fear of losing our jobs. Sad...discouraging...frightening...I can't believe this is DCSD now."
Another frustrated and exhausted teacher called for more direct action:
can't-take-anymore (Teacher): "I am about ready to sue this board for harassment, mental anguish, slander, liable, and anything else an attorney has language for. I am so tired of coming home from school every single night feeling this anxious and sick over what they are doing to me, my students, and my community! It is so completely out of control. My 33 students are suffering, my health is suffering, and my school is suffering. Class-Action anyone?"
The school board will meet again on September 4 to vote on putting the questions on the November ballot.