Colorado

Negotiations back on in Dougco

Updated 4:30 p.m. Tuesday – Douglas County School District and teachers union officials have agreed to return to the bargaining table Thursday, days before their collective bargaining agreement is set to expire June 30.

The session is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. at the district’s administrative headquarters, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. This year, negotiations are open to the public.

District spokesman Randy Barber said union officials Tuesday morning requested additional negotiations sessions. District officials responded in the afternoon, asking that three topics head the agenda – exclusivity of the union, or the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, in representing teachers; compensation; and communications with members of the public.

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County federation, sent a message Tuesday to members – about 70 percent of all Dougco teachers – explaining that she had again requested more negotiating time.

She also said that the federation is continuing its request for the state Department of Employment and Labor to intervene. Read the message to teachers.

Updated 3:30 p.m. Monday – The Douglas County School District has replied to Brenda Smith, head of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, by declaring “We are both disappointed and confused by your letter, but we want you to understand that we remain open to further negotiations if you are interested.” Read the reply.

Original Friday story begins here:

CASTLE ROCK – Douglas County’s school board and its teachers union have a week to finalize a collective bargaining agreement or become the largest school district in Colorado operating without one.

Douglas County teachers at one of the open bargaining sessions in May. Their blue t-shirts read, “I make a difference every day.”

The latest exchanges between district and union leaders doesn’t appear to bode well for a negotiated contract by June 30, with both sides declaring the other is refusing to continue productive dialogue.

Leaders of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers this week asked the state Department of Labor and Employment to intervene in the standoff. Friday, spokesman Bill Thoennes said the department was gathering information and had yet to make a decision on the request. He said there’s no deadline for that decision.

Dougco school board member Dan Gerken issued a statement Thursday saying the board was “disappointed” that “instead of continuing negotiations,” the union sought the state’s intervention.

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“We strongly believe the issue of the Douglas County School District budget is one of local control,” Gerken said, adding, “To date, we have invested over 100 hours at the negotiating table … the union has ignored invitations to schedule more time.”

Brenda Smith, president of the Dougco federation, said she strongly disagrees with the idea that the union has backed away from the bargaining table. In a letter sent Thursday to teachers, Smith wrote that union negotiators made “significant” compromises in their quest for a collective bargaining agreement.

“Each time we made progress in negotiations, the Douglas County school board moved the goal posts,” she said.

“Unfortunately,” she also wrote, “the new leadership of the district has made it clear they no longer have any intention of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the organization to which more than 70 percent of its teachers belong.”

The stall comes during the first open contract negotiations between the district and the union in 40 years. The first open session was held April 11, followed by public meetings in May and June, with a final session on June 8. No additional talks are scheduled, though the district’s lead negotiator, Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee, has told union leaders he can be available next week.

Pay is a point of contention, with the two sides separated by 1 percent. The district offered a 1 percent raise plus a 1 percent retention bonus for all teachers willing to sign new contracts by June 15. They also want to add a day to the contract.

The union proposal is for a 2 percent raise plus the 1 percent bonus for returning teachers and no additional day. Union leaders also weren’t happy about, but agreed to, a district plan to phase out other teacher compensation pieces – such as raises earned for additional education – to fund the district’s pay offer.

But other points of dispute have generated more heat than the pay issue. For example, the district no longer wants to collect union dues from teacher paychecks – something it’s been paid by the union to do for many years.

And the district wants to change contract language that describes the union as “the exclusive” bargaining agent for teachers. Instead, the federation, a chapter of the national American Federation of Teachers, would simply be “a” bargaining agent.

“To be clear, we are asking for choice for our teachers … you are asking for a monopoly,” McMinimee wrote to Smith on June 12.

Wrong, Smith responded Thursday.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” she wrote. “It is order rather than chaos. It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.

“Without it, under current Colorado labor laws, the employer would be free to discriminate among employees to divide and conquer them … We will not agree to it.”

At 63,000 students, Dougco is the state’s third-largest school district. It is also the only large district represented by the AFT. Most districts in Colorado, including Jefferson County, Denver, Cherry Creek and Adams 12-Five Star, are represented by chapters of the National Education Association.

It’s unclear what impact the lack of a collective bargaining agreement might have in Dougco. As of last Friday, the June 15 deadline by which the district required teachers to return individual contracts and receive a 1 percent retention bonus, only 51 of the district’s 2,979 teachers had not signed on to return for another year.

Those individual contracts don’t specify compensation for 2012-13, simply guaranteeing the teacher will not be paid less and leaving open the possibility negotiations will continue, said district spokesman Randy Barber.

If no collective bargaining agreement is reached before students return in the fall, “The majority of teacher have signed contracts and we expect school will continue as usual,” Barber said.

Dougco has yet to reply to the union’s request for state intervention. Such a request from a teachers’ union is unusual but not unprecedented. In 2008, the Denver teachers association asked Don Mares, then executive director of the labor and employment department, to intervene in a contract dispute with former DPS Superintendent and now U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.

Mares declined.

“While it is clear that disagreement exists between the parties, at this point I do not believe that the dispute affects the public interest,” Mares said.

Kerrie Dallman, recently elected president of the Colorado Education Association after serving as head of the Jefferson County teachers’ union, said, in general, working without a collective bargaining agreement means teachers would be working solely under district and board policy.

“Both can be changed unilaterally,” Dallman said, although she noted district leaders might have to hold a public reading or two of the new policy before voting to implement the change.

For example, “the board and district would not be contractually obligated to discuss a proposed decrease or increase in pay with the employees or their representatives,” she said. The same goes for the length of the school day or the school year.

“The teachers’ voices can be totally left out of any discussion on curriculum, teacher accountability and performance,” Dallman said, adding, “It is unfortunate that the Douglas County school board is seeking to silence the voices of their highly trained and experienced professionals.”

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 [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