An eclectic, mostly jovial crowd that swelled to more than 200 people protested before the Douglas County School Board’s Sept. 5 meeting outside the district’s administration building. Most of the protesters were current and retired Douglas County teachers, but sprinkled among them were Douglas County parents, Jefferson County and Cherry Creek school district teachers, union officers and school board supporters.
Though the event was prompted by concern about the school board, the atmosphere on sun-splashed Wilcox Street was upbeat. Protesters waved signs, cheering when drivers beeped their horns or shouted words of support. A still louder chorus of shouts greeted semi drivers who sounded prolonged air horn blasts while passing the block-long wave of protestors.
“I think everyone felt so good about what they were doing,” said Cherie Garcia Lewis, a parent who helped organize the protest through a Facebook page dedicated to teachers. “I talked to so many teachers that said they had goose bumps. They felt they were finally able to do something, and once the board decided not to go through on the ballot questions, they felt their voices were heard.”
The board opted during its meeting not to put three union-related questions on the November ballot, instead adopting policy changes and a resolution it hopes will bring an end to months-long conflict between the two groups.
Protesters carried signs ranging from the sincere to the sarcastic. One depicted a heart with the initials “CBA” inside it, representing the collective bargaining agreement that expired June 30 after failed negotiations between the union and district. “Are your kids better off than they were three years ago?” read another sign.
Retired teacher Joann Slanovich carried a sign that read, “Can you hear your property values dropping?”
A Douglas County teacher for 30 years, Slanovich said she’s upset to see the relationship between the union and district crumble.
“We were all working and pulling in the same direction,” she said. “This has pitted people against each other. It makes me feel bad for the community.”
Though the Sept. 5 protest was organized primarily through the SPEAK for DCSD Facebook page, it was sparked by retired teacher Robert Herrell, who began a solo protest Aug. 21.
“I’m blown away,” Herrell said as he walked among the crowd. “I’ve talked to folks with different opinions (tonight). Isn’t it wonderful? We’re talking.”
Among those with different opinions was state Sen. Tim Neville, a board member of Jefferson County Students First. Neville, whose sign read “Choice trumps cartel,” stood apart from the main crowd with a small group of board supporters.
“Douglas County’s been leading the way in true reform,” he said. “We’re hoping we can get the same brushfire started in Jefferson County.”
Pam Manzanec, a candidate for the state board of education and board member of Great Choice Douglas County, said board support doesn’t exclude teachers.
“I find a lot of the signs confusing,” she said. “Most of us who support school choice could honk; we love and support teachers.”
Garcia Lewis said the Sept. 5 gathering will not be the last. Herrell has promised to be at the administration building every Tuesday, and teachers may protest again before the next board meeting Sept. 18.
“I feel like yesterday was a first step,” Garcia Lewis said. “It’s the first chapter in probably many chapters for us that will take place until 2013.”
November 2013 marks the next school board election. The seats now held by president John Carson, vice president Dan Gerken and board members Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn expire then.