By Ben DeGrow
Colorado teachers union officials may be seeking to make an example of the Adams 12 school board, but they appear reluctant to bring the truth of their claims into the light. Last year the board asked employees to share in the sacrifice of picking up 1.5 percent of their salary to contribute to their own pensions. Administrators and classified staff accepted the deal, but not the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and its local affiliate, the District Twelve Educators Association (DTEA). The union rallied several hundred teachers (including many from other districts) to the September 5 board meeting, trying to create an aura of intimidation.
District leaders didn’t give in but rather stuck with the tough decision, avoiding the pain of further layoffs or of further cuts to services directly affecting students and families. If Adams 12 succeeds and the reform board persists in getting teachers to pay a little more toward PERA, as provided for in 2010’s Senate Bill 1, union officials fear the fiscally responsible phenomenon could spread. But that messaging doesn’t exactly resonate with the community.
Undeterred, CEA adjusted its strategy to create turmoil and malign the board before 2013 contract negotiations begin and elections follow this fall. Union officials have worked with a disgruntled former employee and a willing Fox31 news investigator to trump up phony charges of malfeasance — capably debunked by Mike Rosen and by board member Norm Jennings. The union has organized community events to echo its dubious claims.
To its credit, the school board has called the union’s bluff. A letter sent out yesterday from the Adams 12 board makes a bold statement about the bargaining process set to start very soon:
In the past, the negotiations process has been closed to the public. The board has heard on multiple occasions the desire of parents, teachers and community members to have a more open, honest and transparent process. In honoring the Five Star community’s request, the board of education is committed to opening negotiations to the public starting with the process that begins next week.
If accepted, Adams 12 would become the fourth of Colorado’s 10 largest school districts to adopt open negotiations. That kind of transparency enables taxpayers and teachers alike to observe whether the parties’ private demands match their public posturing. The current collective bargaining agreement says negotiations remain closed unless both parties otherwise agree. That puts the ball in the teachers union’s court.
Back on September 19, two weeks after he had to be escorted out by security for his own protection from the union mob, local parent Joe Hein returned to the podium and calmly requested that the board open future union bargaining sessions to public view. This time, a number of teachers in the audience applauded his testimony.
Six months later, the elected school board has endorsed the idea. Meanwhile, the union leadership — which has expended time and energy complaining that they were railroaded in last year’s negotiations and that the board is beset by corrupt financial mismanagement — has the opportunity to expose it all to parents, teachers, and other community members.
Yet an April 10 email from DTEA president Dorian DeLong to the district’s human resources director indicates they are skeptical of the opportunity:
We would like to learn more about why the District is interested in open negotiations, but we do not think there is adequate time to consider this before beginning 2013 negotiations. Therefore, at least at this time, we do not wish to entertain the District’s suggestion for this year’s negotiations.
While union officials haven’t exactly slammed the door all the way shut, they have begun to paint themselves into a dark, back room corner. Truth doesn’t fear sunshine. The school board is to be commended for embracing transparency. Union leaders still have a chance to join them in honoring the community. It’s time to step into the light.