The dissolution of the collective bargaining agreement between the Douglas County School District and its teachers’ union alarms state union leaders, and excites another teachers’ organization.
The Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), a non-union teachers’ organization, hopes the change may prompt some Douglas County educators to consider joining it. PACE doesn’t engage in collective bargaining, and its membership director says the group is nonpartisan. Its benefits include liability insurance, legal protection, scholarships and other professional resources for $15 a month. That amount is about one-third of the dues assessed by the Douglas County Federation, the union whose collective bargaining agreement expired.
“We think it’s good teachers are going to have more options for their professional associations, and we’re excited about that,” PACE membership director Tim Farmer said. “There are a lot of teachers who don’t know there are other organizations they can join instead of a teachers’ union.”
The organization steers clear of politics.
“We don’t donate to campaigns, or endorse candidates,” he said. “We do try to make sure the teachers’ voice is heard, though. We survey our members on education issues, and provide that information to policy makers.”
PACE supports the idea of charter schools, Farmer said, but its members don’t support the idea of vouchers or choice scholarship programs.
“I wouldn’t say we’re against vouchers,” he said. “We just don’t have an opinion right now.”
Started in 2007, PACE, an affiliate of the national Association of American Educators, is young and small. It has just 1,000 members. That compares to the 9,000 members of AFT Colorado, almost one-third of whom are in the Douglas County Federation, and the 40,000 in the Colorado Education Association.
The DCF wants the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene and help forge an agreement between the union and the Douglas County School District.
If that doesn’t happen, CEA spokeswoman Jeanne Beyer said, “It will be unprecedented in Colorado. Teachers have been collective bargaining in Colorado since 1965. It’s very distressing.”
Although many Colorado school districts operate without a CBA, most of those are small, Beyer said.
“The relationship in a small community is much different than an urban or suburban area,” she said.
AFT Colorado executive director Jennie Peek-Dunstone said the use of mediators in difficult negotiations is common. Dissolution of a CBA is not.
“It’s alarming,” she said. “Quite frankly, the Douglas County Federation is one of the most forward-thinking, reform-friendly unions in the country. They started pay-for-performance. They’ve been willing to move away from the traditional salary structure.”
That makes the recent changes particularly surprising, she said.
Dunstone believes a CBA provides stability for teachers.
“Without it, the school board can make unilateral changes on almost anything, without any input from teachers,” she said.
Though the Douglas County School District has created an employee handbook to guide its teachers in lieu of a CBA, its spokesman said the district plans no major changes in its working relationship with teachers.
Farmer, of the non-union teachers’ group, suggests Douglas County teachers educate themselves.
“If teachers feel they might be abused without a collective bargaining agreement, that’s kind of a false argument,” he said. “You have entire states like Georgia and Texas that operate without a collective bargaining agreement.”
“I would tell the teachers, ‘Get informed and learn about your other options for professional associations.’”