Recent ads criticizing the Douglas County teachers’ union likely are the leading edge of a long campaign, a spokesman for a Washington-based union watchdog group said.
The Center for Union Facts placed television, radio and print advertisements that accuse the Douglas County Federation of blocking education reform in an effort to protect itself. A recent print ad depicting striking Chicago teachers says the union “is bringing Chicago-style tactics to Douglas County” and using kids as “pawns in their political games.”
“I think we’re only getting started,” said Justin Wilson, the Center for Union Facts’ managing director.
Union president Brenda Smith said Wilson’s assertion that DCF members oppose reform is false.
“Our union has never blocked reform. Ever,” she said. “He doesn’t know what’s going on in Douglas County. If he knew anything about Douglas County, he would know we were one of the first districts to have pay for performance, and that the union supported Senate Bill 191. All of those are in line with ed reform.”
The 2010-approved SB 191, also called the Educator Effectiveness Bill, dramatically changes the way teachers are evaluated, tying them to student performance, among other factors.
The union does not, however, support the district’s voucher program, which was declared unconstitutional in 2011 and is being appealed.
“When you’re talking about vouchers and taking public dollars out of the education system, to me, this is not reform,” Smith said.
The nonprofit Center for Union Facts is not anti-union, Wilson said, but a watchdog group that focuses on specific union issues. It keeps a particularly close eye on the American Federation of Teachers, the parent arm of the Douglas County Federation as well as the Chicago Teachers Union.
The Chicago Teachers Union held an eight-day strike last month, prompted by a variety of concerns.
Wilson described the AFT as “aggressive in its demands to halt education reform.”
“We try to find situations where teachers’ unions are being unreasonable,” Wilson said. In Douglas County, “You’ve got this reform-minded board that’s at the forefront of education reform. I think they’re being really innovative and the union sees that as a big threat.”
Wilson said he could not release names of donors supporting the campaign, saying only that they are local.
He confirmed that Richard Berman, a controversial Washington lobbyist and attorney, is on the nonprofit organization’s board of directors.
The Center for Union Facts manages the Facebook page “I Stand with DougCo Kids,” which originally was launched by Douglas County-based Parent Led Reform. Parent Led Reform director Karin Piper and Wilson both said they no longer are working together.
“Parent Led Reform certainly launched the campaign,” Piper said. “We don’t have anything to do with that right now.”
Strife between the union and school district hit a boiling point this summer when negotiations between the two sides failed, and the long-held collective bargaining agreement expired.