I write a lot about Douglas County here, and with good reason. The school board there has charted a bold course. Hey, it wasn’t much more than a year ago that they voted to establish the first locally-created private school choice program in the nation. More recently, they demonstrated their commitment to transparency by voting to open union negotiations to public view.
Tomorrow morning’s Dougco open negotiations Twitter Rally, which yours truly will be a part of, should be noteworthy not only for the breakthrough moment but for the content of the conversation. Because, you guessed right, it sure looks like the Board of Education of Colorado’s third-largest school district has taken the bold approach.
While leaders in the 42,000-student Adams 12 school district “are proposing a 3 percent reduction in employee pay through furlough days and an increased pension contribution,” Dougco is offering up a more appealing plan to :
- A 1% across-the-board pay increase for employees, who have had salaries frozen the past several years
- A 1% retention bonus for anyone “who return contracts/commitments for next year on time”
- Overcoming last year’s setback of a defeated mill levy proposal to fund performance pay, district leaders now are pushing to initiate market-based pay for new hires and to reengage the cutting-edge compensation reform plan with a pilot next year
Dougco leaders aren’t exactly awash in funds. In fact, they have been criticized for maintaining a healthy reserve as state funding is slow to recover to recent levels. But their sound financial practices have earned the district high bond ratings, making their debt a good investment — including for the Douglas County government.
Still, how can the Board of Education make the above offer? Among other things, they want to cut out generous severance benefits for retiring senior teachers, automatic longevity bonuses and union employee subsidies. Oh, and did I mention streamlining central administration to the tune of $7 million? Then the Board has proposed that union leaders prove their value to members and lose various forms of special privileges, including as follows:
- The district will no longer collect union dues [not exactly the whole state of Michigan, but still];
- District and student need will trump seniority in all areas of hiring, including for new schools;
- The union has to use district facilities and communication systems on the same terms as other groups; and even
- “Teachers and district may choose other collective bargaining agents.”
Wow. Of course, the union has its proposal on the table, too — which (can you imagine?) is a little bit different.
All in all, it sounds like Dougco leaders are intent on pursuing many of the “nine key changes at the bargaining table” my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow shared in a 2011 issue backgrounder. And to think… this time we don’t have to wait to see what emerges from behind closed doors. Parents, teachers and other citizens can keep their eyes on the important proceedings.
Say what you want, the Dougco Board certainly isn’t resigned just to doing things the way they have been done before. Their boldness looks to be moving this large and fast-growing Colorado school district in a productive and performance-based direction. Students and taxpayers could end up being the winners.