Colorado

Adams 12 teachers, administrators start bargaining

The teachers union and administrators in Adams 12 are back at the bargaining table earlier than some expected, but that doesn’t mean the two sides are seeing eye-to-eye on budget and salary issues.

Adams 12 Five Star teachers protest in the fall of 2012 over salary cuts used to prop up PERA. (Photo credit: Our Colorado News)
Adams 12 Five Star teachers protest in the fall of 2012 over salary cuts used to prop up PERA. (Photo credit: Our Colorado News)

The ongoing battle between the two sides — over district budgeting practices, a slew of teacher and program cuts and a move by the district to have teachers pay more into their pension plans than any other Colorado district — is being played out through a fierce public relations battle.

So far, both sides agree that the early start to negotiations is beneficial. The district and union have met once so far for a contract re-opener and have two more meetings on the books May 2 and 9, even though the current contract doesn’t expire until August 2014.

“Both parties are optimistic about the current negotiations process that just started…and the opportunity to collectively address the matters at hand and what’s been put on the table,” district spokesman Joe Ferdani said Tuesday. “It’s just an opportunity to move forward and strengthen the relationship.”

But an early start does not guarantee a smooth start, and the process has already been marked by combativeness. The district sent out a public letter this month asking for the union to hold negotiations in public — something that hasn’t been done before in Adams 12. The union refused.

And the Colorado Education Association, rather than local teachers in Adams 12, seem to be handling more of the communication efforts as the stakes get higher.

“We weren’t sure the district would bargain this year,” said CEA spokeswoman Jeanne Beyer. “But the request to do open negotiations was a surprise. The district and the DTEA had never discussed it.”

Learn more 

Arbitration continues

Meanwhile, both sides are meeting with arbitrator Ben Aisenberg Tuesday in an effort to work out conflicts that erupted between the union and district after a slate of across-the-board, 1.5 percent salary cuts implemented in September. In part, the cuts are to pay for contributions to teacher pensions — contributions that the district used to cover.

The arbitrator’s advisory ruling is expected within a few weeks, and it remains to be seen how each party will react to what Aisenberg says since the findings are not legally binding.

“The board will take under advisement what the arbitrator says,” Ferdani said. “It’s ultimately important to know that that’s non-binding so while the board will consider that, they’re not in a position at this point to know exactly what they’ll do.”

Beyer said if the arbitrator determines that the DTEA (District Twelve Educators’ Association) contract has been violated and if the district fails to heed the arbitrator’s findings, a DTEA lawsuit is likely to follow.

Both sides try to sway the public

As pressure over the contraction negotiations and arbitration rises, both sides are campaigning to sway the public to their side.

Rob Kellogg, the Colorado Education Association’s director of research and public policy, has shared a PowerPoint presentation with community members in which the union lambasts the district for its overly healthy fund reserves and repeats claims made in a KDVR-Fox 31 news program that the district illegally tweaked budget numbers to make salary and program cuts more palatable.

In a letter written to the community in anticipation of the Fox News report, Superintendent Chris Gdowski disputed its contents and said the concerns come from a “disgruntled former employee.”

The union also dropped 20,000 bright orange flyers on doorsteps from the last two weeks of March. The flyer begins:

“Did you know that School District 12 has money in the bank and could invest more in our students’ education? But the District 12 School Board and Administration refuse to do this. Why? Because the School Board and Administration want to stockpile the taxpayers’ money.”

The flyer goes on to claim that the district over-estimates projected expenses to inflate its budget and shelves the resulting savings.

The DTEA also contacted about 2,000 voters via phone bank, Beyer said.

Several weeks after the flyer dropped, the Adams 12 Five Star Schools Board of Education published an open letter asking for open teachers contract negotiations.

The letter notes that the superintendent’s preliminary budget plan calls for $6.4 million to be spent on programs and services “with high priority needs such as additional teachers to manage class size at the elementary level, additional high school counselors, funding for classroom technology and additional busing for middle school students.”

In addition, the letter describes a proposal to spend $4.4 million on employee salary increases but that the specifics of the compensation packages for certified, classified and administrative staff would be determined, in part, through negotiations.

“Having open negotiations is in the best interest of the district, DTEA and the Five Star community,” the letter continues, pointing out that negotiations last year spanned nine months. “That is too long for our community not to have information concerning this process – what issues are on the table, where the parties stand on those issues, and what progress is being made. When the process prevents the sharing of accurate information it leads to rumors and misinformation. We are committed to changing that.”

Both sides expressed a desire to be conciliatory in a highly charged environment, but rhetoric is still flying.

“It’s unfortunate that some have tried to malign and put a stop to this process improvement through the spread of inaccurate information, and with dissemination of misinformation designed to generate an emotional reaction rather than build understanding,” the letter says.

But Beyer called the letter an act of “subterfuge” since school budgets are open and available to the public now.

“We had a conversation… Do we send a letter back to them?” Beyer said. “I don’t think anyone is interested in getting into a big public fight over this.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”