union vs. district

Colorado Supreme Court to hear Denver teachers’ lawsuit challenging “mutual consent”

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post

A lawsuit brought by seven current and former teachers against Denver Public Schools will be taken up by the Colorado Supreme Court, the state’s highest court announced Monday.

The teachers allege DPS is misusing a part of the state’s landmark educator effectiveness law to get rid of teachers with non-probationary status, commonly known as tenure.

Before the law passed in 2010, non-probationary teachers who lost their positions due to circumstances such as decreasing student enrollment were assigned to open positions at other schools, a practice sometimes called “forced placement.”

District leaders didn’t like forced placement for several reasons. They argued that it most often happened at low-income schools, which led to the kids who need the most help disproportionately being taught by teachers who didn’t choose to be there.

So DPS changed its policy. Instead of permanently placing jobless teachers in open positions, the district now gives them temporary assignments with the expectation that the teachers will look for so-called “mutual consent” positions, meaning the principal agrees to hire them.

If a teacher doesn’t find such a position in a certain amount of time, he or she is placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The 2010 law, Senate Bill 191, allows that to happen.

The teachers and the teachers union say it’s unconstitutional to put non-probationary teachers on unpaid leave without cause and a hearing. The impacted teachers aren’t bad teachers and the law is being used to wrongly punish them, they argue.

In January 2014, the seven teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association sued DPS and the State Board of Education (a formality common in lawsuits involving state education law) in Denver District Court. The district court sided with DPS and dismissed the case, ruling in part that putting a teacher on unpaid leave is different than firing her without due process.

The teachers appealed and won. The Colorado Court of Appeals reinstated the case, a decision that led DPS to ask for an opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court.

Now that the state’s high court has taken the case, the parties will be invited to file briefs.

In its announcement Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court said it will examine several issues, including whether the lawmakers who passed Senate Bill 191 “satisfied due process for teachers who were previously entitled to ‘forced placement.’”

“Denver Public Schools is pleased that the Colorado Supreme Court has accepted our request to hear this important case,” Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova said in a statement.

She added that DPS believes lawmakers were right to allow districts to end forced placement, especially because of its effects on high-poverty schools. “If districts must go back to ‘forced placement,’ then those students are the most likely to have teachers who are not the right fit forced into their schools,” she said.

Kerrie Dallman, the president of the Colorado Education Association, said the statewide teachers union is glad the case will be heard by the state’s highest court.

“We are confident the Colorado Supreme Court will reinforce long-standing commitments made by the courts and the legislature that honor the teaching profession and ensure Colorado school districts can no longer deprive students of experienced teachers,” she said in a statement.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”