Pay Day! May Day!

Jeffco board majority OKs tentative compensation plan for teachers

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jefferson County teachers wait for an elevator outside the district's board chambers after the Board of Education approved a tentative compensation model that abandons the traditional structure based on time and education.

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education tonight approved a loosely-defined teacher compensation model tied to the results of teacher evaluations that still have plenty of kinks to iron out.

Little is still known about exactly what the new model means for teachers, who have been working under salary freezes for several years.

And because the new model is a complete abandonment of the suburban school district’s status quo, a specific date when teachers will see their promised increases is unknown at this time.

The board’s vote came just a week after board chairman Ken Witt proposed the model. District staff worked hurriedly to crunch the numbers, which staff warned could change as more information is provided to the board.

“These numbers really will change,” said Lorie Gillis, Jeffco’s chief financial officer.

What is known at this time:

  • The base salary for teachers, which is currently about $33,000, will be raised to $38,000
  • Last year’s teacher evaluations will determine bonuses
  • Probationary teachers, those still in the first three years of teaching, who received a “partly-effective” rating will receive a 1 percent raise
  • Teachers who received an “effective” rating will receive a 2.43 percent raise
  • Teachers who received a “highly effective” rating will receive a 4.25 percent raise
  • All raises, regardless of when they are finalized, will be retroactive to the start of the school year

By comparison, had the school board accepted a tentative agreement reached last spring by the district and the Jefferson County Education Association, the average teacher would have received a 2.8 percent raise.

Among the issues that still need to be worked out include where the district will cut off raises, how the district will determine the starting salaries of veteran teachers who join the district each year, and what other factors the board might consider for pay raises.

The board and staff must also determine whether student data will be considered as part of the evaluation that determines pay increases and how the model will affect the district’s budget in future years.

“This makes sense to me,” Witt said.

But teachers in the board chambers were left scratching their heads.

“I don’t know,” said Lei Lani, an instructional coach at Campbell Elementary School, when asked how the board’s decision might affect her pay.

Lani, who has two graduate degrees, said her extra education allowed her to be paid more than some of her peers. But she’s concerned the new pay plan won’t take her degrees into account.

“It’s probably going to help,” she said. “But I really want to know how its going to impact my fellow teachers.”

Lani hopes she hears from the district soon.

But district staff is working through the motions just as much as teachers.

“This is going to be very complicated,” said Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resources officer, during an interview Thursday night. “Payroll needs to be done very carefully. This is a completely new way to do pay.”

Board member Jill Fellman Thursday night said one of the reasons she could not support the new model was because it was not created with teachers at the table.

“We need to be very clear — this your model, Mr. Witt,” Fellman said.

Thursday’s vote comes after the board majority — made up of Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — rejected the findings of an independent review that suggested the board should agree to a tentative agreement reached by the district and union last spring that included pay raises for teachers who were considered “partly effective.”

Kerrie Dallman, president of the state’s largest teachers union, said her organization is prepared to stand with the local union, which is considering a lawsuit.

“It is being discussed,” she said. “JCEA will do everything possible to ensure their members’ rights under the collective bargaining agreement will be upheld. And The CEA will be ready to support them in whatever decision they’re prepared to make.”

The unions contract with the district ends this school year.

Thursday’s board room audience was noticeably smaller than in previous months. That’s because, some said, teachers were out knocking on doors throughout the county sharing their feelings about the board’s majority.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect only those teachers who are both on probation in their first three years of and have been rated as partly effective will get a one percent raise. 

This article has also been updated to clarify pay raises for teachers, once finalized, will be retroactive to the start of the school year.

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.