IB-2015-B (February 2015)
Author: Ben DeGrow
Thirty-nine out of 178 Colorado school districts are known to engage in collective bargaining, or a formal contractual relationship with a union designated as the exclusive representative. The 39 districts have a total of 69 active union contracts.
Some master agreements are renegotiated and reauthorized annually, but most have durations of three years or more. Multi-year agreements typically are revisited and modified each year to reflect updates to salary schedules and employee benefits, as well as a limited number of other topics. To take effect for the following school year, bargaining sessions typically are conducted sometime between February and May, though impasses have been known to stretch into the summer months and beyond.
In opening the door wide for union negotiations, a large majority of Colorado voters affirmed the importance of K-12 budget and policy transparency. More than a decade before Proposition 104 shone a light on the negotiation process, the General Assembly required that the negotiation product should be made available using online technology. Lacking any sort of enforcement mechanism, a significant minority of bargaining school districts have fallen short of the basic expectation, though persistent reminders helped in many cases.
Given the experience with union contract transparency, citizens should not take for granted full compliance with the letter and spirit of the new open negotiations law. Beyond any sort of reasonable sanction the state could apply for violators, it is incumbent upon citizens and the press to stay vigilant and to help ensure open government that promotes maximum accountability for student success.