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Dougco School Board Challenges Union Leaders, May Seek Voters’ Input

Believe it or not, it’s been a whole three days since I last shared some thoughts on the exciting goings-on in Colorado’s third-largest school district. An arbitrator ruled that Douglas County leaders couldn’t get back all the tax-funded union leave dollars because they didn’t get a change to the collective bargaining agreement in writing.

So Tuesday night at the Board meeting, one of the directors offered a peaceful compromise:

[Craig] Richardson said he wanted the district to “pursue every remedy until we have our money back … and I will not relent.”

That is, he said, unless the union accepted his challenge – to move what he described as the $52,000 balance from a union political account into a fund created by board members to help teachers pay for classroom supplies.

(You can read Richardson’s entire statement online here.) Keep the money in a political fund or donate it to cover the costs of teacher supplies? An interesting choice faces the local AFT union leadership. The $52,000 in question comes out to slightly less than $20 per Dougco teacher. But every little bit helps.

A similar observation could be made regarding another piece of news that emerged at Tuesday’s Board meeting. Because of frugal cost-savings, the Board was able to find enough extra money available to give a $500 pay increase to every teacher in the school district. The average 1 percent pay increase, placed on top of an additional raise and incentive, means roughly a 3 percent raise over last year for Dougco instructors.

What’s interesting there is that teachers now get essentially the same raise that union officials requested during open negotiations. (Actually, since the $500 is a flat bonus and not tied to base pay, less senior teachers get an even bigger raise than the union asked for, while more senior teachers get a somewhat smaller raise.)

As if we didn’t already know, the real issues dividing the two sides are about union power and politics. Dougco Board members publicly pondered one or more ballot measures to place before local voters this November. Approval of these measures would be like a marital breakup, EAG News writer Ben Velderman cleverly put it:

The tentative questions – which will be approved or rejected during next month’s board meeting – would ask voters if the district should be prohibited from: collecting union dues from employee paychecks; granting paid release time to teachers who spend their days conducting union business instead of teaching in the classroom; and engaging in collective bargaining with the union.

In other words, the board may ask taxpayers in November if they want to divorce the Douglas County Federation of Teachers. The district and the union are already going through a trial separation, so voters have a good idea of how the school system would run if the arrangement were made permanent.

While everybody waits… and waits…… and waits……………. to see whether Governor John Hickenlooper will intervene on behalf of his big union campaign contributor, the Douglas County school board is sending a signal they are willing to ask the voters of their community for their binding opinion on the union’s future status. What exactly does it mean? Since I’m not aware of anything quite like this being done before, my best answer is: Who knows

Meanwhile, Parent Led Reform, one of my favorite all-time Tweeters, reports that a small picket line broke out today in front of the school district’s main offices in Castle Rock. Fortunately, it doesn’t sound like any actual teachers walked out of their classrooms or anything like that. But I guess AFT agitators can’t stand by and let an example be set for professional teaching and fiscal responsibility.

Things clearly aren’t calming down yet in Douglas County. In fact, they may have just begun to get more interesting — if you can believe that.