Education, Jefferson County

JeffCo teachers union sues school board

The Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) has taken a page from the Greeley Education Association (GEA) and filed suit against its district during the height of contract negotiations.

The suit against Jefferson County Public Schools alleges the board has repeatedly violated its collective bargaining agreement by unilaterally implementing new pay scales and standards, as well as approving a temporary pay change for new teachers and some specialty positions.

JCEA filed the suit April 7 in Jefferson County District Court, just a couple weeks after the Board of Education approved a temporary compensation plan for teachers new to the district in 2015-16, teachers with specific master’s degrees and hard-to-fill positions.

It is not known when the suit will be heard. But the filing appears to be the latest move by the JCEA to disrupt the district and the Board of Education. The JCEA and Colorado Education Association (CEA) have also organized protests, created disparaging Twitter accounts, and supported board meeting disruptions aimed at drawing negative attention to the board.

JCEA used Proposition 104, which requires negotiations to be held in public and passed by 70 percent of voters, as a reason for relief in the suit. The claim was made despite the fact the Colorado Education Association (CEA) – the statewide organization providing legal representation to JCEA in the suit – donated more than $44,000 to the group Local Schools, Local Choices to oppose Prop 104. Further, JCEA agreed to engage in “small group” meetings with the district during negotiations and behind closed doors—meetings designed to skirt the law’s intent.

“JCEA pointed out that Proposition 104 passed by Colorado voters in 2014, requires that school boards discuss collective bargaining issues in open public meetings,” the suit reads in part. “… Despite JCEA’s request, the district refused to engage in bargaining – in open meeting or otherwise …”

John Ford, president of the JCEA, did not return calls to Complete Colorado seeking comment on the suit.

The GEA filed a similar lawsuit in March, claiming the Greeley school board hired positions that were historically on the teacher pay scale but changed those positions to become administrative positions to get around the collective bargaining agreement. The district says it did so for the same reasons as Jeffco, to be more competitive with surrounding districts in those positions.

The Jeffco suit calls into question the unanimous decision in March by board members Lesley Dahlkemper, Jill Fellman, Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk. It also challenges the move to a pay-for-performance model and the details of that model adopted by the board last fall

In full, the suit charges the board did not adhere to collective bargaining agreements:

  • In May 2014, the board failed to adopt a memorandum of understanding that would include teachers with partially effective performance evaluation ratings in a one-step raise on the pay scale, instead granting only those teachers rated effective or highly effective that raise.
  • In September 2014, the board changed the amount teachers would receive in pay raises from the originally used “step scale,” which is a model used by most districts that outlines a predetermined amount of money as a teacher gains in years of experience, to a percentage based on how effective the teacher was rated each year.
  • In November 2014, the board made several other changes to compensation packages in the district including eliminating salary provisions at one school, removing the JCEA’s representative on the teacher evaluation council, removing the teacher salary schedule completely and eliminating additional induction days for new teachers.
  • In March 2015, the board voted to impose the new salary schedule for new hires, those holding specific master’s degrees and hard-to-fill positions.

At the meeting in March, board attorney Brad Miller assured the board the new pay scale was within its rights outside of bargaining because it did not affect the current contract and was for one year only outside of the contract.

Miller, who represents only the board members, has no role in the district’s representation of this suit. However, he said both the fall compensation changes and the March salary schedule for new hires are within the board’s rights and he advised them of such when they came up.

After last fall’s fact-finding, which is mentioned in the suit, the board asked Miller if they had the unilateral duty and right to make a decision on the outcome of the negotiations. Miller said yes.

In March, “the board chair asked me if it was a reasonable and consistent extension of the new compensation plan they passed in early fall,” Miller said. “I advised them it was consistent. It doesn’t implicate the next year’s contract. And for purposes of this spring hiring the board is within its rights to approve.”

Amy Weber, chief human resource officer for Jeffco, told the board the pay discrepancies with currently employed teachers would need to be addressed in negotiations.

However, Jeffco teacher Don Cameron, who spoke against the plan at a different meeting, said he doesn’t see how those increases would be possible.

“I have no hard feelings against new employees with experience moving up the salary schedule,” he said. “… However, to make up that difference requires an unrealistic salary bump of 14.7 and 5 percent for two of the (categories).”

Cameron said the board needed to stop focusing on compensation and start focusing on class size, workload, benefits, working conditions, autonomy and creating a holistic and good working relationship with teachers. He implied that current teachers would not work collaboratively with new hires.

“Teachers are leaving the district because they find the work environment hostile,” he said. “If you focus on compensation and pit new teachers against experienced teachers in Jeffco, you will create a negative working environment that will have a direct impact on your students’ learning environment. This plan as presented will make these salary lanes like break-down lanes leaving our children to wave down a teacher to provide them an education.”

The suit calls for a judge to issue an injunction barring the district from implementing any of its changes and seeks a reimbursement of attorney fees from the district.

District lawyers declined to comment on the suit. As of Monday, the district had not filed a response.

2015_04_13 JCEA v JC Board Payscale Lawsuit WM by CompleteColorado

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