Though it spent more than 100 hours in time on negotiations with the union that now appear for naught, the Douglas County School District says the process cost it only about $6,500. That was the fee paid to technical staff that recorded the public sessions. Likewise the union said its only true cost was time.
Administrators who served on the district team are paid salaries, and did not receive additional compensation for the long hours spent on negotiations.
“This is just part of our duty as members of the district,” district spokesperson Randy Barber said.
The current collective bargaining agreement expired June 30, and talks between the two sides ended June 28 with no agreement on a 2012-13 CBA. The union filed for help in settling the issue with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, but the state agency has not said yet if it will intervene.
This year marked the first time negotiations were open to the public, a decision made in March at the suggestion of a parent group. The traditionally closed negotiations for the 2012-13 school year’s collective bargaining agreement began last fall. When the school board moved to make the proceedings public, the district team changed. Principals that historically have served on the district team opted not to participate in public sessions.
“We didn’t necessarily feel we should put principals in that position,” Barber said. “They have to work with the teachers on a daily basis. We want to make sure they are able to continue that relationship, regardless of what happens in negotiations. I don’t think there was any expectation there would be contentious negotiations.”
That change made the two teams appear lopsided during the public discussions, with just four people on the district’s side and a dozen negotiating for the Douglas County Federation of Teachers.
The district’s team included four people from the school’s administrative office, including chief financial officer Bonnie Betz, chief human resources officer Brian Cesare, assistant superintendent of secondary education Dan McMinimee and assistant superintendent of elementary education Chris Cutter.
“Historically, the district negotiations team always included representatives from finance, HR, assistant superintendents and administrators,” Barber said. “We just made sure those specific areas were covered and selected folks to represent us at the table.”
Barber did not respond directly when asked if the district staff had a choice in their participation.
“I think we all have parts of our job we’re asked to do,” he said.
District team members declined to comment on the proceedings.
The union team included paid union staff as well as teachers from schools throughout the county.
Even with time running out on the collective bargaining agreement, the board approved a motion to make negotiations public permanently during its June 19 meeting.
“We appreciated the transparency of the open negotiations and did believe it was very useful for the teachers and public,” Barber said, adding that an agreement with the DCF doesn’t have to exist for open negotiations to continue in coming years. “Potentially, any union that represents teachers or any other groups would have the ability to meet with the board of education or its representatives to try to reach a collective bargaining agreement.”
Union representatives said they, too, found the public negotiations beneficial.
“It’s much easier to negotiate publicly,” DCF staff member Courtney Smith said, noting that during closed negotiations, union team members can’t update teachers on the process. During public sessions, teachers either could come to the negotiations or listen to them via recordings provided on the district’s Web site.
“There’s nothing any of us would every say behind closed doors we wouldn’t say publicly, but this made it much easier for the teachers,” Smith said.