Sponsor beats up on DPS, has teacher placement bill killed

The sponsor of a bill that would have forbidden school districts from putting unassigned teacher on unpaid leave asked the House Education Committee to kill his measure Monday, but not until after he ripped the Denver Public Schools for its personnel policies.

On the other side of the rhetorical spat, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Democrats for Education Reform criticized Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, for cutting off the possibility of testimony against his House Bill 14-1268.

Salazar said he wanted to kill the bill both to allow more time to work on a 2015 version and to allow DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association to perhaps work out their differences.

Another factor may have been that the bill also was not expected to get out of committee, with at least one Democratic member and all Republicans expected to vote against it. In the unlikely event the bill would have passed the House, it was considered dead on arrival in the Senate. (Asking that a bill be postponed indefinitely is often a face-saving technique to avoid defeat of a measure. The committee granted Salazar’s request on a 13-0 vote.)

The measure was seen as something of a symbolic effort in the ongoing feud between DPS and the DCTA (along with the Colorado Education Association) over the district’s use of a portion of Senate Bill 10-191, the state’s landmark educator evaluation law.

The DCTA filed suit against the district at the same time that plans for the bill was announced (see this story for background).

The fight is over a section of SB 10-191 that requires mutual consent of principals (or hiring committees) and teachers for placement of a teacher in a school. While the more important parts of the evaluation law are still being phased in, the mutual consent provision went into effect immediately after the bill became law. The DCTA contends that DPS has used to law to push some teachers out for budgetary reasons, not because they’re bad teachers. Use of the mutual consent provision has been an issue only in DPS.

Salazar called DPS’ use of the law “shocking, staggering and unconscionable” and said district administration had been “intransigent” in refusing to discuss possible amendments to his bill. “They were not willing to work on anything,” he told Chalkbeat Colorado after the brief committee hearing.

In a later interview with Chalkbeat, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg disputed that, saying, “We talked at great length” and hinting that perhaps Salazar was intransigent. “It takes two to compromise.”

Boasberg also was critical of Salazar’s move to kill the bill, saying, “We were all surprised and disappointed that we didn’t have the chance to clarify the situation.” He also claimed “egregious factual inaccuracies” in what Salazar said.

Salazar’s move caught most people by surprise. Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, said she learned of his plan only just before the meeting convened. In a news release, Salazar said, “I could look to push the legislation through committee with hours of heated testimony, only to have hours of heated debate on the House floor if this bill gets passed out of committee. Or I can ask that this bill be postponed, take the next year to work with the stakeholders, bringing in respected community leaders to encourage DPS administrators to engage in the legislative process in good faith. I elect to take the next year to bring these stakeholders to the table.”

According to both CEA and Boasberg, only 57 DPS teachers are currently on unpaid leave because they haven’t been placed in schools.