The Douglas County School Board retreated during its Sept. 5 meeting from efforts to put questions aimed at restricting the teachers’ union on November’s ballot, instead adopting policies that members hope will bind future boards.
Douglas County Federation president Brenda Smith, who views the change in direction as positive for the union, dismissed their action as having no long-lasting impact.
“What they did tonight was a power grab, but future boards can change policy,” she said. “I feel this was a big victory.”
The policies formalize action the district already has taken to halt the deduction of union dues from teachers’ paychecks and cease paying a portion of union employees’ salaries. Though the state has not made a decision on the union’s request for intervention in its stalled negotiations, the board also approved a resolution declaring those negotiations over.
“We’re pleased to have all of this distracting noise behind us and we’re looking forward to a positive, productive and superb school year,” said school board president John Carson, who referred to the collective bargaining agreement process as “outdated and old-fashioned.”
The board made the policy changes before a standing-room-only crowd of parents, teachers and media. The unanimous vote came after a pre-meeting protest that drew a crowd of more than 200 to walk and wave signs at the district’s administration building, and more than 40 minutes of public comment from people both urging and discouraging the board to put the questions on the ballot.
It also came in the wake of a Sept. 4 letter to the board from Douglas County Federation attorney Mark Grueskin, in which he promised a lawsuit if the board moved ahead with the ballot questions.
Carson said the board’s decision saves taxpayers the $200,000 the ballot questions likely would cost, though he said feedback was “overwhelmingly in support of proceeding with the measures.”
“One of the reasons the board wanted to consider these measures was to ensure our voters and this democratically elected board retained local control, as set forth in the Colorado Constitution, over our district in the face of a request by the unions that the (Gov. John) Hickenlooper administration intervene in our internal affairs,” Carson said. “Instead, I believe we’ll adopt two of these measures … as a binding policy of the board of education.”
The language adopted during the meeting attempts to tie the hands of future boards, calling it a “breach of fiduciary responsibility” to engage in dues deduction or partial payment of union salaries. The policy changes also appear to pave the way for citizen-initiated lawsuits to proceed if future boards veer away from the union-related policies.
With the adoption of the new policies, Carson said the board’s focus now is on the future.
“This is a school district committed to education reform,” he said. “We are now focusing all of our organizations’ energy, talent and resources on the exciting school year under way, and we certainly don’t view future discussions with these two unions to be productive or useful at this time.”
Unions included under the Douglas County Federation’s umbrella represent classified and certified district employees.
Board members Kevin Larsen and Meghann Silverthorn voted along with their peers, but said they wouldn’t rule out future interaction with the union.
“It is almost self-evident these negotiations have come to an end as they are,” Silverthorn said. “I don’t ever want to say never. There may come more serendipitous circumstances under which we all decide to speak to one another again.”
Smith remains hopeful the Colorado Department of Labor, from whom it requested intervention in June, still will decide to push the two sides to an agreement on the 2012-13 teachers’ contract. The agreement expired June 30.
Meanwhile, she said, “We’ll continue to push forward. We continue to represent our members, to be the voice for teachers and students.”