EDUCATION
09/06/2012 10:29 am ET

Douglas County School Board Severs Ties With Teachers Union

On Wednesday, The Douglas County School Board voted to officially end negotiations with the teachers union over their collective-bargaining agreement with the district. The board also voted to end the collection of union dues and to stop paying union leaders with district money.

The board was originally considering three proposed ballot measures to sever ties with the teachers union, but the board members decided against pursuing the ballot measures and instead voted instead to just change board policy with regard to its relationship with the union, EdNews Colorado reports.

Because the board decided against going forward with the ballot measures, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees (DCFT) considers what happened Wednesday night a victory for the union. "I think tonight was a big victory for our teachers, our students, and our community. The board realized that they don't have the ability to move forward with these ballot initiatives and I think it is a good idea not to waste taxpayers' dollars doing that," Brenda Smith, president of DCFT told 9News.

"I also feel they understood that it absolutely is not legal to move forward," Smith said to EdNews Colorado about the board's decision to not pursue ballot measures.

On Facebook, the Speak for DCSD page -- an online 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" -- some commenters agreed that, although still a direct blow to the union, this outcome was better than resolutions passed via ballot measures because the board's decision can be changed when a new new board is elected:

JustMe (Teacher): "Tonight's BOE vote ends collective bargaining and staff members paying union dues through their paychecks. It has been written into Board Policy that Douglas County School District will no longer participate in either of these items. This is considered a "win" for the DCFT because board policy can be amended when a new board is elected. Had these been written as ballot measures and voted in, they would be more similar to a state constitution amendment and the hands of future boards would have been tied.

7News reports that before the board meeting started, several educators and parents marched outside the district's administration building in protest of the board's actions.

The Speak for DCSD page was flooded with comments from educators and parents. One parent posted:

Denise (Parent): "The DougCo BOE meeting was nothing but a show of narcissism at its finest. The agenda showed public comments first but that was preempted by: the presentation of "found" money to a group of teachers who had to then graciously thank the board and all they do; senator Ted Harvey commending the BOE on their school choice initiatives and voucher program; and not-to-be-outdone congressman Chris Holbert applauding the proposed ballot measures to cut ties with the teachers union, all of which was very nonpartisan (wink). When it finally came to public comment the few pro BOE comments were strategically interspersed within the first speakers and then with the concluding speaker (I think, honestly, I'm not sure what that angry man was talking about). And in the end, the board did what they wanted regardless of public sentiment and as we have seen them do with other recent issues."

Another person wrote:

(Taxpayer): "Today is a sad, sad day in the history of public education in Douglas County. Shame on the Douglas County School Board for regressing more than 40 years. When the recall elections begin (and yes, they definitely SHOULD), I'm in!"

Two weeks ago when the ballot measures were first proposed, The Denver Post reported that 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 not only wanted to pursue ballot measures, but wanted them to go further, "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."

The original ballot measures the board proposed were 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?

Dan Gerken, vice president of the school board, told 9News that the board is trying to focus on "what's right" for the kids. But Robert Herrell, a retired teacher who helped organize the protests against the school board disagrees, "We did what we were asked and now all of a sudden we're the bad guys. It's a ploy. They want to privatize schools and that's what this is all about."

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.

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