Union president's address creates debate

Teachers' rep talks to Highlands Ranch Republican breakfast group

Posted 7/27/14

An invitation to the teachers' union president to address a local Republican Party-based monthly breakfast sparked dissension among some of the group's regular attendees. Some members refused to attend Courtney Smith's July 25 address to the …

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Union president's address creates debate

Teachers' rep talks to Highlands Ranch Republican breakfast group


An invitation to the teachers' union president to address a local Republican Party-based monthly breakfast sparked dissension among some of the group's regular attendees. Some members refused to attend Courtney Smith's July 25 address to the Highlands Club.

Highlands Club chairman Rick Murray said he is undaunted by the concerns.

"This meeting has generated a little bit of controversy, even to the point where our party leaders are going around telling people to stay away, keep their minds closed and fall in lockstep with them," he said before introducing Smith. "I would prefer they stay away. But if they think they can stifle dissent and control our thoughts and actions, who we listen to and have speak to us, I've got one word to say to them: Hell will freeze over first."

Douglas County Republican Chairman Craig Steiner, who was not at the meeting, said he was aware some were concerned Murray was promoting the union.

“But for my part, I don't care who Rick promotes at his breakfast,” Steiner said. “He has a First Amendment right to invite whomever he wants to speak.”

Before Smith's presentation at the meeting at Mon Ami restaurant Murray read aloud Facebook posts about the issue and identified the prominent Douglas County Republicans who'd written them by name. One county GOP district captain wrote that the decision to invite Smith suggests the club doesn't support the party platform.

"I would challenge (them) to come in here and show me in the Republican Party platform where it says I don't listen to somebody else, or listen to an opinion I don't agree with," Murray said.

The Highlands Club, originally called the Highlands Ranch Republicans Breakfast Group, operates independent of the Douglas County Republicans, but its attendees are largely conservative.

Union president cites 'misperceptions'

Smith talked about the Douglas County Federation's role within the school district, her history with the group and addressed what she called common misconceptions.

“I don't have horns,” said Smith, who started with the Douglas County School District as a high school teacher before becoming a union officer. “I didn't grow up (wanting) to be a union president.”

The union's longstanding collective bargaining agreement with the school district expired in 2012 after failed, extensive negotiations. Since then, the two entities have been involved in legal disputes. Most recently, the Colorado Department of Education found in favor of DCSD after the teachers' union requested a review of its teacher evaluation system. The union alleged the system was “invalid and unreliable.”

Smith also referred to a letter she received July 24 from school board president Kevin Larsen and vice president Doug Benevento that included suggested talking points for the Highlands Club breakfast.

She discussed the five items in the letter, which included political contributions to Douglas County school board races, how teachers' union dues are spent, teacher pay, and the now-suspended agreement between the two entities in which DCSD paid a portion of union leaders' salaries.

“I think the misperceptions out there are hampering true work in the school district,” Smith said. “I think the school district has put forward some pieces that might have been well received by the teachers in the school district if they were part of the development of it.”

Smith pointed to recently released state statistics that show 17.3 percent of teachers left DCSD in 2013-14. The statistics do not include employees who left after Dec. 1, 2013.

The 17.3 percent closely mirrors turnover statewide, but is higher than that of surrounding, similar suburban districts, and higher than in DCSD's past.

“The problem I see that's huge to me is the amount of teachers leaving Douglas County for the surrounding districts because of what's happening here,” Smith said, citing the market-based pay system among the reasons for the resignations.

Attendees weigh in

Larsen, who attended the breakfast, noted the salary bands are not set, but expand and contract based on the market. He also said the district is retaining its best teachers.

“More important than the overall turnover is to look at where it's happening,” he said.
Larsen emphasized that the state recently reaffirmed the validity of the district's teacher-evaluation system.

“It's not easy changing the evaluation system,” Larsen said. “It's hard work.”
Breakfast attendee Pat Perlinger, an Acres Green resident, said he's concerned about the differing accounts given regarding teacher attrition.

“You can't have teachers leaving in droves and at the same time not have teachers leaving in droves,” he said.

“We need to have the truth coming out to people so they can look at it in a common-sense way.”

A few audience members took issue with some of Smith's statements, particularly the use of union funds in political campaigns. Smith said union funds used in campaigns come not from the DCF or dues, but a specific political fund managed by the DCF's parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

Audience members brought up ads run during past Douglas County School Board campaigns. State Rep. Frank McNulty said it is “disingenuous” to say the union doesn't participate in local campaigns. He pointed out that Smith is executive vice president of AFT Colorado, and said union funds were used to “beat the heck out of our Republican candidates.”

McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, thanked Smith for attending.

“We may disagree on many things, but what we won't disagree on is having a conversation like this,” he said.


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Many in the R party, at least in Douglas County, are beginning to see that someone is not telling the truth. Mr. Perlinger, quoted here, is spot on. And he said much more that morning, too. School Board president, Kevin Larsen, says the district is retaining its best teachers and that, "more important than overall turnover (which was 17.28% Dec. 1, 2013, up from 13.26% on Dec. 1, 2012) is to look at where it's happening."

DCSD lost MORE Highly Effective teachers (the BEST teachers) than Ineffective teachers in 2013.

(There were many more who left this spring, and DCSD lost 25 (!!!) principals in May/June 2014 - which will not be reported until next July, 2015.)

Based on numbers from the CDE, reported to them by DCSD, we lost 555 teachers, which is 17.28%. That means there were 3,211 teachers in 2013. According to DCSD, of those 3,211:

21% (675) were rated Highly Effective. 5% (34) of them left DCSD in 2013.

1% (32) were rated Ineffective. 88% (28) of them left DCSD in 2013.

(I may correct the above numbers because I suspect DCSD's breakdown is how teachers were rated at the end of this school year, when the turnover numbers from CDE are from a 1 yr. period from Dec. 1, 2012 to Dec. 1, 2013. More on that later.)

Frank McNulty, also quoted here, tried to divert focus away from and diminish the turnover discussion because he thinks turnover in any large corporation is great. Perfectly fine. It is expected in the private sector. Others at this breakfast kept returning to the turnover issue, though, because they wanted to know why there was 17.28% turnover. One businessman said that if his company ever had as much as 3% turnover, the company was focused on finding out why, and what they could do to have a higher retention rate.

It is so sad that closed-minded others call people in their own party names, like RINOs (Republican In Name Only) when they actually have thoughts independent of whatever a small group has decided is the "platform" for the party, much less when they actually want to learn what is true in order to make choices for themselves. I commend Mr. Murray for calling out those "prominent Douglas County Republicans" by name who are not so open minded, and showing those in disbelief the true colors of these so-called leaders.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thank you to Rick Murray for opening up a dialog that is sorely missing from meetings run by elected school board officials and district upper administration.

As far as who is telling the truth, as a DCSD parent and frequent classroom volunteer, I would suggest talking with parents, students and teachers, in addition to politicians, the superintendent, and her cabinet, to hear all sides. Especially teachers who have left the district, who no longer feel they have to toe the district line, or shield their students and families from district level dysfunction. If you don't know a variety of teachers, students and parents, here are some links to videos of former DCSD teachers telling why they left.

Note, these comments were recorded by a DCSD parent who encouraged these teachers to speak out at a school board meeting. Because this was shortly before the last school board election, some of the videos mention the no-longer-relevant election, but the main messages are still of concern.

Apple award nominee every year since inception, Castle Rock WalMart teacher of the year, Honorable mention from 9 News Teachers who Care, says she “retired” because the “district was unsupportive to the point it was damaging to the students” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1ONQCu13vg

Apple award finalist, coached students to Nationals in Speech and Debate, received "Outstanding Teacher" designation multiple times, and was ranked highly effective says “as long as your teachers are teaching too many students, with too little instructional time, spending too much time documenting their performance, and too little time focusing on the students, the district will continue to decline, great teachers will continue to leave…” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hQzVGfHvFc

Special Ed teacher, “not afraid of change”, “not afraid of accountability”, told by a student “you are one of the best things in my life”; says that “District leadership has decided that ideology and national attention are more important than what goes on day to day with our precious young minds”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HrNRzRpxoU

25 year veteran teacher ranked highly effective says that teachers are “tired of being disparaged, mocked, demonized, lied about, sabotaged and ignored” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN37qKXZgKo

13 year veteran teacher “retired” because “actions and decisions being made and philosophy being embraced does not reflect best practices and equity for all our students” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzqdoytH9tA

Apple award nominee says the climate created by the board and administration “sucks the life out of teaching” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ0geqj34es

More teacher, parent and student comments in written format can be found here: http://douglascountyparents.com/category/teacher-voice

Click on any of the three orange "voices" buttons on the bottom right to see what more teachers, parents, students, and community members have to say. The issues tab on the website of this all-volunteer organization also details some of the concerns of Douglas County parents.

Saturday, August 2, 2014