NO DEAL

Jeffco board says no to proposed agreement with teachers union

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jefferson County teachers and parents gather around a screen and loud speaker streaming the school board meeting outside the Jeffco Public Schools headquarters in Golden Thursday.

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board school board tossed out a tentative deal with its teachers union during Thursday night’s board meeting.

Board president Ken Witt said he could not endorse the deal because the agreement provided raises to an estimated 56 teachers who were rated “partly effective” on the district’s evaluation rubric.

The district will move to fact finding on the entire agreement. Fact finding is when both parties present facts to a third party that then makes recommendations on an agreement. The process will cost time, money and is non-binding, district staff advised the board.

The district’s budget that must be approved by June 30 will move forward.

“We will compensate our teachers,” board member John Newkirk said during board debate. “There will be the funds there to do this. But we need the language there that we asked for.”

The vote to reject the agreement was approved on a 3-2 vote, with the board majority rejecting the agreement. The vote came toward the end of a long school board meeting packed with some of the most controversial topics facing the suburban school district including the district’s budget and the new superintendent’s contract.

The board’s minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman urged the board to approve the agreement to put the issue behind the district, which has been rife with skepticism and fear.

“We are not healing our community,” Dahlkemper said.

And teachers union representatives were disappointed in the outcome, as well.

“… [I]t does a disservice to the 85,000 Jefferson County public school kids and the hardworking educators of the district,” said JCEA President John Ford.

The tentative agreement between the Jefferson County Education Association and the district was signed last month. However, while the union sent the agreement to be ratified by its members, the district released a statement saying it wasn’t a done deal.

That’s because the board’s majority doesn’t want non-probationary teachers who are rated as partially effective to be eligible for a step increase, or a raise based on years in the classroom.

According to the district’s media release, the district’s negotiating team requested changes in the agreement a few hours after leaving the mediation session and before it was taken to the JCEA board.

The tentative agreement as outlined by the union included:

  • An average of 2.5 percent increase for teachers who were not rated “ineffective;”
  • Increased starting pay for new teachers;
  • Health care kept constant for all employees in 2014-2015;
  • Class size kept constant from this year’s levels; and
  • A plan to work on a new compensation system for the 2015 – 2019 contract.

Earlier in the evening, the board was expected to enter an executive session to discuss the tentative agreement. However, due to board divisions, the five-member board could not muster enough votes needed, four, to go behind close doors.

In a separate vote the board did approve its tentative agreement with the district’s clerical union.

 

 

 

 

Lights - camera - action

Relive the Jefferson County school board recall in 12 minutes

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Recall supporter Cecelia Lange waved signs at 52nd and Wadsworth Tuesday morning.

What can a school board election tell us about American democracy?

Well, if that school board race happens to be in Jefferson County, involve the nation’s largest teachers union and one of the country’s most influential conservative nonprofit groups … quite a bit, actually.

At least that’s the premise of a new documentary short film, “Million-Dollar School Board” by independent filmmakers Louis Alvarez, Andy Kolker and Paul Stekler. 

The film chronicles the high-profile school board race — which included debates about how history should be taught and how teachers should get paid — that ended with three conservative members being ousted by a coalition of teachers, parents and community members. More than $1 million was poured into the campaign from all sides, hence the film’s title.

The Jeffco film is part of a nine-part series of short documentaries, “Postcards from The Great Divide,” released in a digital partnership between PBS’ Election 2016 initiative and The Washington Post, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Latino Public Broadcasting, with a PBS broadcast on the World Channel.

The goal is to answer this question:

As substantial interest group money flows down into even local races, does it also bring the same stark ideological and partisan divisions that mark our national politics today into debates that were once totally separate from Washington?

You can view the roughly 12-minute film in its entirety here:

Then reread a sampling of our coverage:

 

full disclosure

Teachers unions gave huge sums of seed money to Jeffco recall, new records show

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Organizers of a school board recall effort in Jefferson County, from left, Michael Blanton, Wendy McCord, and Tina Gurdikian, spoke at the campaign kick off event in July.

National and local teachers unions provided more than $265,000 to a nonprofit group that served as a catalyst to recall three conservative school board members in Jefferson County.

That is according to campaign disclosures filed Thursday in response to a judge’s order that the group, Jeffco United, disclose its donors.

The organization, a social welfare nonprofit with tax-exempt status, was established in May and received its first donation — $25,000 — from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. In total, the CEA gave $113,500 to the group, records show.

The national union was even more generous. The National Education Association gave $150,000 to Jeffco United in late August.

Complete Colorado — an arm of the free-market think tank The Independence Institute, supported the recalled school board members — first reported the NEA contribution.

The disclosures shed significant new light on who bankrolled the high-profile recall, which opponents of the conservative board majority repeatedly described as a broad community-based effort. But the full picture of the financial forces on both sides of the campaign remains incomplete, because of lax state and federal reporting requirements.

Who gave to Jeffco United? |
• National Education Association, $150,000
• Colorado Education Association, $113,500
• Jefferson County Education Association, $20,000
• All other individuals, $3,115

“This is all we asked for,” said Dede Laugesen, director of Colorado Government Watch, the El Paso County-based organization that filed the complaint against Jeffco United. “It is only too bad voters did not have this information before the election.”

Lynea Hansen, spokeswoman for Jeffco United, said it would be a mistake to say the recall was “union-led.”

“This was a parent-led and parent-organized recall,” Hansen said. “But parents can’t raise the kind of money to compete with the kind of out-of-state money that keeps coming into Colorado. This is the way the game is set up. We’re playing by the rules that we’re given.”

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jeffco United eventually launched two sister political committees to finance the recall and the election of a five-candidate slate. Most of that money — more than $200,000 — was raised locally.

Those committees raised and publically disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a large donation from Jeffco United early in the campaign.

An administrative court judge last week ruled that Jeffco United violated the state’s campaign finance laws. The judge found there was enough evidence to suggest that Jeffco United’s “major purpose” was to spearhead the recall of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Typically, social welfare nonprofits — such as One Colorado, Progress Now and Americans For Prosperity — are allowed to raise money without disclosing their donors and then donate a portion to political committees, which are required to disclose donors to the secretary of state.

It’s common practice for advocacy organizations to operate multiple fundraising and spending apparatuses including 527s, independent expenditure committees and issue committees.

However, under Colorado law if an organization’s “major purpose” is to act only on a singular political issue, it must file as a political committee with the secretary of state and not as a nonprofit.

Judge Robert N. Spencer, in his decision, found Support Jeffco Kids — another group named in the original complaint — had an established track record of work on a variety of issues, therefore it did not violate the “major purpose” law.

Spencer’s decision only applies to Jeffco United.

Other nonprofits, including Colorado Independent Action, which acted similarly to Jeffco United, came to the aid of the recall targets. Independent Action, like Complete Colorado, is an arm of the Independence Institute, which does not disclose its donors.

Ousted board chairman Witt said the institute has a long track record for supporting politicians who champion for expanding school choice.

“I don’t think there was any surprise in those organizations being strong advocates for what we’re doing,” Witt said. He added, “I’m delighted that the truth has finally come out.”

The transparency watchdog organization Colorado Ethics Watch earlier this month called on lawmakers to revisit the state’s campaign finance laws that govern school board races.