The Douglas County School Board says that no matter how the vote might turn out on three proposed ballot issues, the board retains authority over the issues.
Board members pondered three union-related questions during their Aug. 21 meeting, saying they’d like input on the issues from the community, and that they’ll discuss them further during their Sept. 4 meeting.
The board could ask residents whether the district should be prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining with the Douglas County Federation, prohibited from partial payment of union leaders’ compensation, and prohibited from collecting union dues from employee paychecks.
“I think the effect of each of these three items would be a prohibition,” board member Craig Richardson said. “It would be to remove those matters from the discretion of the board and say as a community, ‘We don’t want you ever doing that.’”
But when board member Kevin Larsen asked what the impact of the voters’ denial of the questions would be, Richardson said, “The board would still have discretion.”
Though the union still hopes for a resolution of the collective bargaining agreement, with the June 30 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, the three issues currently are a moot point. The union and district clashed on those and other points during more than 100 hours of negotiation, and the district this summer stopped collecting union dues from teacher paychecks.
The two sides also agreed earlier this year to discontinue the years-long practice of paying 50 percent of the salaries of teachers taking time off from the classroom to work for the union.
But the board wants to permanently alter a relationship with the union that, while held up as a national model of harmony as recently as February 2011, has in the last year crumbled.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to ask, ‘Should it stop permanently?’” board member Craig Richardson said of the salary compensation arrangement, adding that not doing so could lead to “a never-ending conversation with the union.”
Board members say deducting union dues from paychecks indirectly involves the district in the union’s political campaigns.
“Should this district consider asking voters whether they want to consider kicking partisan politics out of the classroom?” board member Dan Gerken asked.
Board president John Carson introduced the idea of a question that he said “would really get to the heart of the issue.”
“We should consider asking voters whether they favor a system of direct negotiation between schools and teachers, a system that rises above the gridlock of the old collective bargaining model,” he said.
Carson said the district has functioned well so far in the absence of the agreement.
“Of course, the wheels of public education didn’t come to a halt,” he said. “That suggests to me maybe we’d be better off as a district to make it a permanent practice. I think we should consider asking the voters whether they want to continue a collective bargaining agreement or not, and find out whether we have approached this properly. Some people feel we have not. I think maybe the voters should be asked to weigh in.”
In June, the union filed for intervention in the collective bargaining agreement process with the Colorado Department of Labor. The department has not responded to the request.
Though union officials are checking with attorneys to determine if the board has legal authority to put such questions to voters, the school district says it does.
“The Board of Education is well within their rights to place ballot questions before the voters,” said an Aug. 24 email sent from district spokesman Randy Barber.
The board must submit any proposed ballot questions by Sept. 7.