Human Resources

Jefferson County school district, union reach tentative agreement

GOLDEN — Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association Thursday evening reached a “ground breaking” 10-month tentative agreement that some feared would devolve to a total impasse.

While officials from the teachers union expressed — repeatedly — their opposition to the length of the contract, the two sides compromised Thursday on a plan to reduce classroom size for elementary schools, require schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian, and delay the rollout of a new system of tracking teachers’ personal leave time.

“We are horribly disappointed in the 10-month duration of the contract because it does not demonstrate any commitment to the teachers,” Arik Heim, a teacher at Wheat Ridge High School, said, accepting the district’s final terms and asking for those changes in writing. “But in the interest of having an agreement in place when our teachers show up to work on Monday, and so they can focus on the interests of our students, we hope that [the district] can doctor up language quickly so we can sign a temporary agreement tonight.”

After some minor tweaks to the contract language, a tentative agreement was signed by Heim and the district’s lawyer Jim Branum.

Five months in the making, the new contract must be ratified by a majority of the union’s members and win approval from the county’s school board in order to go into effect.

Union President John Ford said he’ll present the contract language to his some 3,500 members at an Aug. 21 meeting. If ratified, the board will have its chance to vote on the contract at its Aug. 27 meeting.

The union’s current contract expires Aug. 31.

Relations between JCEA and the school board’s majority have been strained since the board began linking teacher pay to their performance on evaluations. Previously, teacher pay was linked to years of service.

The new contract language, which was drastically reduced in length compared to its predecessor, emphasizes collaboration between teachers and principals to make decisions on issues like staffing and resources, codifies the district’s teacher evaluation process, and streamlines the grievance process.

“This innovative contract is a result of nearly 150 hours at the negotiating table by the negotiating team as well as a commitment to collaboration by the JCEA and Jeffco School Board,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While both sides compromised on contract components, we believe this agreement is good for Jeffco students and Jeffco teachers. I am looking forward to its implementation during this next school year.”

But it’s unclear how the union’s rank-and-file will respond to the contract language.

“I’m not celebrating much,” said Neva Sutter, a teacher at Wilmore Davis Elementary School who attended Thursday’s meeting.

Sutter said the contract fails to improve the district’s evaluation system that she and others believe is unreliable, and provides no assurances on teacher pay in the coming years.

“Myself and my husband (who is also a Jeffco teacher) had two very different experiences with evaluations this year,” she said. “The feedback was completely different. I had 14 observations. He had two.”

While contract negotiations between the district and union started off on a positive note, talks came to halt twice. And the specter of a strike popped up in the spring.

First, the union sued the district over a compensation plan for new teachers. The district and union eventually came to an agreement over compensation. Then, union officials took a time out when the district refused to budge on the length of the contract.

“Some folks I talked to before I took this job told me this wouldn’t end well,” said moderator Jon Numair.  “… But I want to congratulate you over what you’ve done these last few months. … Each of you stepped out of your comfort zone to make this happen.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate member count of the Jefferson County teachers union.

getting to know you

New Jeffco superintendent has more questions than answers in tour of district

New Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

New Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass introduced himself to the community Monday with an eight-site swing through the sprawling district, asking the same three questions of community members at every stop.

At a late afternoon visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver in Lakewood, the former Eagle County schools chief asked more than 50 residents, parents and teachers for feedback on what the 86,000-student district should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

That was in keeping with what Glass promised this spring when he was tapped to succeed Dan McMinimee, who had led Jeffco since 2013. Even before officially starting, Glass met with staff and visited schools. He told Chalkbeat in May he would not start with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said in the spring. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

In Lakewood, much of the hourlong discussion evolved around expanding community partnerships and supporting students with diverse needs, which Glass said were common themes he heard throughout Monday. Glass has said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs.

“We only have so much energy, time, resources to spend, and we want to make sure that those are pointed toward the real concerns — issues and vision for the community,” he said in an interview. “We only can get to that by talking to people and finding out what that really is.”

No labels

How Jeffco’s pick for superintendent changed his mind about education reform

Jason Glass, the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, toured Arvada High School last week. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

When Jason Glass was recruited to oversee more than 300 Iowa school districts as the state’s director of education, he was known for his work in Colorado’s Eagle County tying teacher pay to student performance.

The Republican governor who appointed Glass in Iowa called him a “reform-minded leader” and put him to work to explore similar models for Iowa’s teachers.

Over time, both while in Iowa and after returning to serve as superintendent of Eagle County Schools, Glass changed some of his thoughts on education reform. He said it happened while he was looking at education systems around the world and found that many of the popular reforms in the U.S. “were not a strong ingredient” in other systems around the world. Addressing student needs was, he said.

“Unless you’re doing something to impact poverty, you’re really not changing outcomes,” Glass said. “It changed my focus.”

Glass’s views are front and center as he is set to take on a more prominent role as the next superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Pending contract negotiations and a final vote Tuesday night, he will begin the role July 1.

Glass was the sole finalist of a school board that won election with support from a coalition that included well-connected parents and the teachers union.

In Eagle County, Glass is admired by the local union. He said he no longer believes in performance pay for teachers, but advocates for other ways to pay teachers other than under traditional models. He’s been critical of testing in Colorado. He believes charter schools should meet high bars, including showing quality in instruction.

“I’m most interested in getting something done,” Glass said. “That can take on different forms.”

Jeffco board members who picked Glass as sole finalist for the job praised his ability to work with different people, his work on rolling out a biliteracy seal in his district to encourage bilingual students and for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s master plan.

The Jeffco board launched a national search earlier this spring to find a new leader.

The last superintendent, Dan McMinimee, was hired by a previous school board in a majority decision by three conservative board members who were later recalled. Three of the five current school board members are up for re-election this November.

“I really admire this board,” Glass said. “It took a lot of courage for them to run.”

Even before officially starting, Glass has been meeting groups of staff and visiting schools. On Thursday, he visited Arvada High School, where two students gave him a tour of the school and told him about the programs they say make their school great.

Glass was quiet, mostly listening to the students and asking occasional questions.

He said he won’t start work in Jeffco with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

He said he will consider whether Jeffco could offer a biliteracy seal — a credential given to graduating students who meet requirements to prove they are fluent in two languages.

Talking about his views on budget issues facing most Colorado districts, Glass said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs — services that cash-strapped districts often have to cut.

Glass said it is clear the district needs someone to unite the community.

“It’s a place that needs a strong leader, a relationship-builder,” Glass said. “Those are skill sets that I have and areas that I’ve been successful in.”

His job application highlighted that voters in Eagle County in November approved a tax increase for the district. Jeffco failed to pass two tax increase measures in November.

Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, agrees that Glass has learned to work well with various groups.

Edwards said that when Glass started in Iowa and was working to create a statewide model of teacher pay and to create new academic standards, the hundreds of school districts used to having local control were skeptical.

“There was initially quite a bit of resistance,” Edwards said. “He worked through a lot of it. It was not an easy sell.”

Now people describe Glass as a supporter of teachers.

When he returned to Colorado after working in Iowa, Glass negotiated a contract with the school district that tied his own pay raises to teacher pay raises. It was something important to the community at the time, Glass said, because they worried about a previous leader that took pay raises while teacher salaries lagged.

Glass also rolled back the performance-pay model that he helped create as the district’s director of human resources. Now, teacher pay is more traditional but with some added performance bonuses.

“He is very supportive of what we do,” said Megan Orvis, president of the Eagle County Education Association.