A Jeffco teacher, who doesn’t know what she might be paid, answers questions she’s receiving about the process. We agreed that others might find this useful in understanding what’s going on.
If you are wondering how Jeffco teachers have ended up going to work without knowing what they’re to be paid, here it is:
Technically, everything is still within the bounds of the contract, but the board is abusing it. We have a contract until August of 2015 which protects collective bargaining and a number of other things, but some pieces (like salary in this case) get renegotiated mid-contract period.
See, four years ago, in answer to a crisis, teachers took a pay freeze. We had a memo of understanding with the members of the board at that time that, if we passed a mill levy, our old salary schedule would be reinstated. We did pass the mill levy, but by the time the salary reinstatement was supposed to happen, we had a new board majority.
This board said that a memo of understanding does not have the same legal force as a contract (which is true), and that they felt no need to honor the old board’s promise. By contract, this issue had to be resolved in scheduled negotiations last March. Our contract specifies March for these negotiations so that, in theory, it’s all resolved well before the next school year.
In March, the teachers’ bargaining team met with the district’s bargaining team, but the district’s team refused to nail down anything about salaries. Soon it became clear that they intended to drag negotiations out until the memo expired and we still had no agreement on salary. Then, lacking that part of the contract for the next year, they could do whatever they wanted with salaries. Our team declared an impasse. (It is important that you understand, there is no distinction between “the teachers” and “the teachers’ union.” The union consists almost exclusively of teachers, including the bargaining team.)
The matter went to mediation in April. That’s when we came to a tentative agreement which the board later weaseled out of. By contract, in such a case, the dispute goes into what’s called “fact-finding.” Both sides hire a fact-finder, splitting the bill 50/50. Under ordinary circumstances, this part would also be finished before the next school year begins. We had reached accord on most issues. There were only two or three items in dispute. If we had taken only those few items to fact-finding, this mess would have been resolved well before the summer was over.
The thing is, the board majority (in a 3-2 vote) decided to open the entire tentative agreement, including the stuff we had agreed upon, to fact-finding. This makes the process longer and more expensive (for teachers and taxpayers–so wasteful!) Technically, the board is not bound by the fact-finder’s decision. In over 40 years of collective bargaining between Jeffco and JCEA, negotiations have gone to fact-finding 3 times, and every time the board and teachers have followed the fact-finder’s recommendations. In June, in another 3-2 decision, the board voted not to be bound by the findings. (The teachers, by contrast, declared their intention to follow the recommendations.)
So, see, we teachers are following the process as it is laid out in the contract. It was never meant to be the cluster you so rightly describe it to be. No other board has so abused the process. I suppose we could have struck over the obvious bad-faith bargaining, but it’s awfully premature, and we really, really want to keep this away from kids.
Ultimately, you see, it’s not about us. It’s about keeping high-quality teachers in every Jeffco classroom. That means that teachers are trying to be reasonable and resolve this without hurting kids. If, God forbid, the board is as abusive in the major contract negotiations coming up this year, and it comes to a strike to ensure the kind of contract that will continue to attract quality teachers, it will not be because the teachers didn’t do absolutely everything in their power to prevent it.
We call upon the Board of Education to do the right thing by taking care of our teachers as was promised, be transparent, and follow the opinion of the Fact Finder that the taxpayers are funding!