Citing impasse, Jeffco teachers union breaks off open negotiations

Negotiations between the Jeffco Public Schools teacher union and board of education are on hold after the association declared an impasse Monday evening.

“It has become clear to the JCEA bargaining team that this year’s bargaining process is disrespecting a 45-year tradition that has made us great,” said Stephie Rossi, bargaining chair for the Jeffco Education Association and a Wheat Ridge High School social studies teacher, to a crowd of teachers gathered outside the district’s administration building in Golden. “The Board has not empowered their team to bring truth to the table and we cannot reach a mutually agreed upon outcome without the truth.”

According to the Columbine Courier, the union walked away after the union asked district staff for the school board’s position on teacher salaries.

The union, referring to a memo signed by the district and union as part of last year’s negotiations, was looking for the district to restore funding for teacher salary ladders,  Ami Prichard, JCEA president, said Tuesday. Those ladders are a formula that outlines how much compensation a teacher is supposed earn based on years of experience and continuing education.

Jeffco employees said the board had yet to give specific direction regarding teacher compensation and rates.

The school board and staff are simultaneously working through the suburban school district’s budget, which must be completed by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year. The district is expecting more funds as the economy recovers, said Lorie Gillis, Jeffco Public Schools’ chief financial officer, during a separate interview Monday with Chalkbeat Colorado.

And if the district were to follow the memo’s directive, Prichard said, that money would go toward teacher compensation, which has been frozen since 2010.

Gillis said the current budget includes an additional $11.7 million for teacher salaries, which would equate on average to a 2.5 percent increase for teachers.

But that estimate was higher at $15.9 million, Prichard said, when negotiations first opened.

Working through the budget has been a little slower this year, Gillis said, because three of the five members are new to the board.

“Everybody is still learning each other,” she said.

The meeting Monday was the fourth of open talks between the union and district staff, representing the board. While the current contract does not expire until August 2015, the two sides meet annually to discuss interim issues including compensation.

Union leaders and supporters have regularly posted updates from the meetings on social media sites like Twitter. The tone of the updates have ranged from skepticism to rage. The social media posts illustrate continued distrust between some portions of the Jefferson County community and the newly elected conservative majority on the board.

Kerrie Dallman, who is president of the Colorado Education Association, sent these tweets last night:

Board president Ken Witt, in a statement to Chalkbeat, said he was disappointed in the association, but that the board was committed to honoring its agreement with the union:

The district values its employees and remains committed to the negotiations process. The board will work with the negotiating teams to determine appropriate next steps and move forward. I am disappointed that the association has decided to abandon the open negotiations process for a closed impasse mediation process, and hope they come back to the negotiating table. The board is honoring last year’s summit results which said after PERA and other mandated increases the board will look at additional compensation in order to recruit and retain great teachers. The district has maintained a budgetary $11.7 million dollar total compensation increase placeholder in accordance with the expectations from last year, and I hope we are able to move forward to mutual agreement on compensation and honoring the terms of the agreement. We are committed to honoring the association agreement.

At an earlier bargaining session, district officials said the current contract would not be extended past 2015, which was one of the issues JCEA raised. Other issues still to be worked out besides compensation are class size, terms of leave and work load.

If the board and union can not agree on a mediator, one will be selected by the American Arbitration Association, according to the current contract.