There is a debate in Douglas County about whether our schools belong to union bosses or to parents, teachers and students. The outcome of that debate will determine whether we prepare students with an education of the past or a world-class one of the future.
The Douglas County School District established a system to pay our best teachers more so that we can keep them in our district. And to the frustration of the labor unions, it is working: Our retention rate among our best teachers is over 98 percent.
Here’s news for other school districts across the nation: If you’re not rewarding your best teachers, they know Douglas County will.
Labor unions have made it clear that they’re threatened by rewarding excellence. They want to have the power to negotiate a union-approved wage scale that doesn’t differentiate based upon excellence but upon time in a seat. For the labor union, it is about their power. Having a single, union-approved wage scale gives them power and takes it from principals and teachers who developed and control our pay-for-performance system.
A recent survey by the state of Colorado makes it clear that our teachers are more energized and fulfilled in their schools than in any other large school districts in Colorado, and more engaged now than two years ago when the same survey was conducted. Our graduation rate is higher than it was four years ago, and our test scores are higher than four years ago all because we have attracted great teachers, engaged parents and energized students.
While you would think all of this good news is cause for celebration, disgruntled labor bosses are trying to tear down the district so they can put their hands back in the pockets of students and take education dollars from them. We’re not going to let them do that.
In 2012, the Douglas County School District stopped sending taxpayer funds to the union bosses’ coffers and ever since they have been retaliating against parents, students and even their own members through untrue attacks.
The problem is that what they wanted no responsible person could agree to:
• Taxpayers to continue paying over $300,000 per year for the salaries of union organizers instead of putting that money into the classroom. To that, we said “no.”
• Rejecting a pay increase for teachers and refusing to spend any money for the professional development of our teachers. To that, too, we said “no.”
The false and misleading statements about the district “hoarding” money defies basic mathematics. Douglas County School District raised employee compensation by $16.4 million this year. Furthermore, it holds 1 percent more in reserves than is required. This move ensures that in the event of an emergency, discretionary money is available to respond to the situation at hand.
Because of this prudent budgeting, more of our education dollars go into the classroom and, unfortunately for the labor leaders, not one penny goes into their coffers.
Our teacher retention remains high. Over the past four years, we received literally tens of thousands of applicants for several hundred positions each year. This runs counter to the union’s argument that Douglas County is anything but a destination district.
The district had a choice to make: Side with big labor or stand with students, teachers and taxpayers. We chose the latter, and while the decision upset labor union bosses, that’s OK with us, because it was the right thing to do.
Doug Benevento is a member of the Douglas County School District Board of Education. This op-ed originally appeared in the Denver Post.