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Surprise! Perpetuating Power Top Priority for Teachers Union Leaders in Adams 12

After a lot of recent attention, it seems to have grown awfully quiet this month in the Adams 12 school district. Two of four scheduled negotiation sessions with teachers union officials already have taken place, but beyond that it’s left to the open-ended curiosity of a perpetually precocious 5-year-old to try to guess what’s taking place. If the Colorado Education Association (CEA) mother ship had let the District Twelve Educators Association (DTEA) accept the board’s offer of open negotiations, we might have more than a clue.

Still, we could take a stab at what the respective sides might be fighting hard for behind closed doors. An April 19 DTEA memo set forth the topics proposed for discussion. Kept out of the (properly hygienic, smoke-free) back rooms, I can only wonder what sort of progress might have been made in the direction of cutting back or ending tax-funded union release time, or the board’s general push toward greater fiscal responsibility.

On the other hand, union leaders want to undo the 1.5% shift in teacher pay to cover their guaranteed retirement benefits (aka PERA), even if they can’t explain how that will be accomplished without asking more of parents and/or having to lay off some teachers. Interestingly, though, the DTEA memo listed as the last point under their proposals: “Extending the contract to 2018.” In an email soliciting their members to provide bargaining input on an online survey, DTEA leaders also noted:

As you take the survey, know that our team already has the contract extension as our top priority. That’s why it’s not on the survey and why we didn’t ask you about it.

Article 37 of the current DTEA master agreement (which gives DTEA, CEA, and NEA effective monopoly bargaining power for district teachers) indicates that it’s set to expire in 2014. CEA union leaders believe they can safely assume most teachers automatically want them back four more years, hoping the agreement will continue to renew as it has done since created in 1970.

That would be kind of like your member of Congress sending out a constituent survey with a note saying, “I know we share the highest priority of re-electing me without opposition for another couple of terms in office, so I didn’t bother to ask.” Except there’s a reason why that comparison doesn’t quite work. Your Congressman has to stand for re-election every two years. Some may complain it’s often rigged in favor of the incumbent, but at least the decision is subject to the democratic process.

Conversely, it seems unlikely that any of the educators who chose CEA and the National Education Association (NEA) to represent them — more than 40 years ago — are still employed by Adams 12. Who knows? If you asked the current batch of teachers, maybe they would want an independent, local-only union. Article 3 of the agreement lays out the procedure by which the question about continuing the incumbent bargaining representative’s power at least can be raised:

Upon receipt of a petition requesting withdrawal of recognition, properly signed by at least thirty per cent (30%) of the teachers which may be submitted between February 1 and March 1 of the year the Master Agreement expires, the Board of Education will call a secret ballot election within thirty (30) days to determine whether recognition shall be withdrawn. The election shall be conducted under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association and under the rules from time to time in effect with the American Arbitration Association. If the Association’s representation rights are challenged by another organization within such election, the losing organization shall pay all costs of
the election.

Of course, having the power to set those rules for a potential election might explain why teachers aren’t used to such elections taking place. It’s good to be the monopoly bargaining agent! Even so, making contract extension the top priority means Adams 12 teachers wouldn’t have that option available to them again until February 2018. Seems like union officials at least could have asked to see how many of them agree that item should be number one on the to-do list.

Given Mike Antonucci’s insightful news analysis that the NEA’s ongoing membership dip has yet to reach bottom, it’s hard to blame union officials for wanting to sew up another four years of uncontested representative power in one of Colorado’s largest school districts.