Teachers' union wants to come back to table

Group will ask for new pact no matter who wins election

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation teachers union, speaks June 8 during contract negotiations at Douglas County High School. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ourcoloradonews.com
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Regardless of who wins the school board election Nov. 5, the Douglas County teachers’ union wants to renew its collective bargaining agreement.

Douglas County Federation of Teachers president Brenda Smith said the organization would not try to resurrect a previous arrangement under which the district paid half the salaries of some union officers, or the district collection of dues from teachers’ paychecks. But it wants to resume the 47-year-old agreement that expired in June 2012.

“Absolutely, we’re going to ask for that,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the school board. We’re going to continue to ask for a collective bargaining agreement because we know that’s what’s important. It is the teachers’ voice.”

Despite conceding on two key points during the 100-plus-hour negotiations last year, Smith said the union would not concede on the final sticking point: remaining the teachers’ exclusive bargaining agent.

“Educators in Douglas County have chosen the DCF for the past half century,” she said. “It isn’t for the district to decide what organizations educators belong to.

“Getting rid of exclusivity says there’s really nobody there to express the views of the teachers, which is where we are now.”

Seven of the eight current Douglas County School Board candidates indicated whether they’d be willing to resume such discussions. (See the sidebar to this story for their responses.)

Members of the current school board members say the absence of a teachers’ union has cleared the way for long-overdue reforms — including new teacher evaluations, a revamped pay-for-performance plan and a market-based pay system. But Smith believes the agreement’s expiration ignited new issues.

“That’s what’s created a lot of the problems in the school district now,” she said. “I think that’s part of the problem with the morale issue. Teachers who have always been in an environment where they’re respected and listened to now don’t have that voice.”

Whether teacher morale is flagging is a matter of debate. While district leaders cite a statewide survey that shows most Douglas County teachers are happy in their individual school environment, many teachers publicly have said morale is at an all-time low and teachers are scared to speak.

Since the agreement expired, membership in the teachers’ union has dropped from 70 to about 60 percent — a drop Smith attributes to the change in its collection of union dues, departure of teachers from the district, and restricted communication with new teachers.

In June 2012, days before the agreement expired, the DCF filed a request for intervention in the negotiations with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The state never has responded to the request. Smith said the union would withdraw that request if the two sides meet for good-faith negotiations.

“I think the most important thing right off the bat is to sit down and start talking about teachers once again,” Smith said. “If people would sit down and read the contract, it wasn’t like it was this evil being. It really did set the parameters for what makes a good learning environment.”