Setting the Stage

 

It’s no secret that the Jeffco board majority’s actions are straight from a highly choreographed script that is being played out across the country to isolate and demonize teachers:

  1. Claim that our schools are failing

  2. Target the root cause toward teachers

  3. Blame the unions for protecting “ineffective” teachers

  4. Stifle community input

  5. Rinse and repeat the same rhetoric until the next round of negotiations with teachers ( collective bargaining agreement) comes due

  6. Abolish the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the relationship with teachers and the teachers’ union

  7. Declare “Mission Accomplished”

 

Right now, Jeffco is in stage 5 of the process, and rapidly approaching stages 6 and 7.  There has been a virtual non-stop barrage of rhetoric from the board majority members and its supporters since they took office in December 2013.  In that time, teachers have been called “thugs” and they, along with the JCEA, have been accused of engaging in “Chicago-style” mafia tactics and “smear campaigns”.  Last fall, as students protested Ms. Williams’ AP US History curriculum review proposal, Mr. Witt claimed teachers and  the JCEA used these students as pawns on national TV.  Meanwhile, parents and community members’ input through surveys, letters and public comment are repeatedly ignored, and objective opinions from federal fact finders are discarded like used candy wrappers.

 

The majority’s full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes tactics are unfortunately working. But, at what cost?  Teachers are demoralized and looking for the exits. The community is deeply divided. The districts’ reputation is irreparably tarnished.  The net result will be the entire Jefferson County community holding the bag to clean up the wreckage.  More importantly, how does this impact our most important assets, our kids.

 

We don’t need to look far to predict what will happen in Jeffco.  Douglas County schools have a three year head start.  In that time, they defined and refined the script for what is soon to come to the second largest school district in Colorado.  In 2012, the Dougco school board ended negotiations with their teachers union and the collective bargaining agreement was eliminated. Now, all teachers must negotiate individually with the district, putting themselves in the precarious position of drinking the district’s pay-for-performance kool-aid or otherwise shown the door.  Meanwhile, Dougco touts itself as “innovative,” and political think tanks  hold up that district to be the model of reform.

 

In the wake of Dougco’s maneuvering, hundreds of teachers and administrators have left the district.  More telling, nearly 1 in 4 Dougco teachers participating in the 2013 Colorado TELL survey said they planned to leave the district – over double the state average.  From 2012 to 2014, Dougco’s teacher turnover rate jumped from 11% to over 17%. In 2014 alone, 107 former effective or highly effective Dougco teachers had left to teach in Cherry Creek or Littleton Public Schools alone; others left the profession altogether. In that same year, the Douglas County Federation reported that over 70% of school principals left the district.

 

Regardless of the organization, this type of attrition is a red flag – a danger sign that something is seriously wrong.  One article identified several key causes for attrition: Leadership issues, development roadblocks, and an environment of fear. From news reports to open letters from former Dougco teachers, many attributed their reasons for leaving based on some or all of these causes.  

In the end, Jeffco’s school board majority is following Dougco’s lead like lemmings jumping off a cliff. By doing so, the impacts could be quite significant and quite possibly detrimental to our entire community. In future posts, we will look at how reforms impact academic achievement and we will explore the economic consequences of reform. In both cases, neither have the outcomes you might envision.