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.”

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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.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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

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