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Discrepancies from Dougco Beg Question: How Many Union Members Remain?

Douglas County School District continues to move forward with major system changes that recognize and reward performance in meaningful ways. And the press continues to pump up the controversy while leaving factual disputes unresolved. Today’s Denver Post turns attention to a DCSD elementary school where a principal misapplied the new employee evaluation standards, creating a false impression of how many teachers rate “highly effective.”

I already provided some clarification to that story, when it still only graced the pages of local newsprint. But the Post story includes an observation about a different Dougco elementary school that bears a closer look:

Parents at Saddle Ranch Elementary held a rally Thursday in support of the school’s teachers after they heard that about 18 of the campus’ 35 teachers were leaving the district. They said none of the teachers at the school were given a highly effective rating, and they believe those teachers are not being valued.

District officials would not comment on teacher ratings at the school, and said only eight teachers, including three retirees, have officially said they are leaving. [emphases added]

This isn’t the first time we have seen disputed numbers about how many teachers are actually leaving Dougco schools. And we’ve already seen how the official numbers of teachers not returning to DCSD is pretty much in line with past years, not to mention how the elimination of a certain inducement to retire is having its own effect. Surely I’m not alone in hoping to see someone investigating to see the source of rumors that are providing us with mismatched numbers.

One might wonder what kind of role displaced union leaders have played in trying to tear down the CITE evaluation system — which hundreds of Dougco teachers helped to craft — and to poison the atmosphere for a Board of Education they don’t much care for. In another recent Denver Post story, the DCFT president painted a picture of how the evaluation system and related changes took place, a picture that doesn’t mesh with other accounts:

Union leaders said the plan, which bases raises on evaluation results and market-based salary criteria developed by the district, is misleading and lacks transparency.

“They are trying to put out this show that teachers are extremely happy about this, but, in the end, I think people are highly confused about what it is that they will be getting,” said Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation.

Some might say: Hold on a minute. Why even interview a leader from a union that isn’t even officially recognized anymore? I take a different position. Reporters should do the interview if they want, just ask a different question, something to set them apart from others covering events. Who is willing to look into it?

DCSD’s groundbreaking educator evaluation and pay system isn’t the only fresh issue that merits journalistic scrutiny. The 2012 expiration of Dougco’s teachers union master contract — with DCFT losing its monopoly power — is essentially without precedent for a district of that size. Why not ask Randi Weingarten or Brenda Smith (or another local AFT official) how many union members remain after the district payroll system stopped collecting AFT dues and political contributions? Previously, about 70 percent of 3,300 teachers belonged.

Until an intrepid investigative reporter digs deeper, we have to speculate on the numbers. A couple of recent examples are instructive. More than a decade ago Utah passed the Voluntary Contributions Act, which ended school district collection of union political action funds only (as opposed to all dues funds in Dougco). As a result, the share of teachers contributing to union PACs dropped by 90 percent.

More recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 reforms — which limited union collective bargaining power, though not to the same extent as the Douglas County School Board’s actions — resulted in a 30 percent drop in union membership among local and state government employees. The two-year decline just for one of Wisconsin’s larger AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) chapters was 35 percent.

So could we really guess that the Douglas County Federation of Teachers has lost about a third of its membership? It’s helpful to find the answer, since if the drop-off has been even 30 percent (or less), then a true majority of Dougco classroom educators no longer now are union members. I don’t know the answer. But somebody in the private union organization does. And the reporter who works to uncover the facts may have a nice little scoop.