Education, Featured, PERA, Sherrie Peif, Thompson

Thompson school board shoots down union contract proposal

Thompson School District Board of Education member Pam Howard confronts board attorney Brad Miller over the district not using an overflow room for people to view a meeting from. The room was not used, Miller said, for security reasons. Credit -- Sherrie Peif
Thompson School District Board of Education member Pam Howard confronts board attorney Brad Miller over the district not using an overflow room for people to view a meeting from. The room was not used, Miller said, for security reasons. Credit — Sherrie Peif

It took just 30 minutes at last night’s meeting for the Thompson School District Board of Education to vote against a new teachers’ contract.

It may take a lot longer to figure out what the fallout will be. Negotiations were set to be done by May 15. The next meeting is not scheduled until May 20, and no extension to the negotiation schedule has been approved.

The board voted 3-3 with member Carl Langner absent on the contract that was ratified earlier by nearly 100 percent of the Thompson Education Association members. Conservative majority members Donna Rice, Bob Kerrigan, and Bryce Carlson voted no, while Denise Montagu, Pam Howard and Lori Hvizda Ward voted yes.

The split vote left Montagu and Howard accusing Kerrigan, Carlson, and Rice of wanting to undermine the union and take away teachers’ voices in the process.

“I do find it interesting that the three members of this board who are sitting here tonight are the ones that don’t have children in the district,” Howard said. “You don’t know these teachers and have personal relationships with them and respect for them because of the way they treat our children. … Why are you wanting to destroy it now?”

At issue for Kerrigan, Carlson, and Rice was the belief that the district’s negotiating team had not followed the direction the board had set. Based on consensus guidance given at the April 1 meeting, a majority of the board members wanted to move ahead with negotiation on moving many items currently in the contract into a handbook, piloting a pay-for-performance model in 2016-17, and looking into having teachers share a part of the rising costs of retirement and insurance benefits.

Board majority members also expressed concern regarding the proposal to expand use of closed-door 2+2 oversight committees in future negotiations and with the district’s proposed calendar.

“I really struggle with sole access to this district by TEA,” Kerrigan said. “We have a third of our teachers who are not represented in this district.”

The contract presented included the creation of a committee to look into a pay-for-performance model and possible pilot program to implement for the 2016-17 year. It also included no base pay increase while honoring steps, but Carlson felt more was needed.

“My position was that we would get something back that we could support along all those items,” said Carlson. “I think it was clear that night that the board was looking for something significantly different. Everything (I have) talked about we gave clear direction on.”

Before the meeting even started, tensions were high. Upon entering the meeting room, Montagu confronted and argued loudly with Kerrigan about not allowing everyone in who wanted to watch the meeting.

When Kerrigan didn’t engage, Montagu, Howard and Ward confronted board attorney Brad Miller about the issue.

Miller said after the meeting that the problem was an overflow room situated behind the board members’ table that was not used. He said for security reasons, they chose not to open the room. However, it appeared there was plenty of room for most everyone in a separate adjoining room, so the anger seemed to be misplaced, Miller said.

This is just the latest concern for the safety of the board members.

Complete Colorado first reported last month that the district had hired off-duty Loveland police officers to show up when the number of people attending the meetings increased.

Michael Hausmann, public information officer for Thompson, said then that the growing crowd size caused the district to pay for the police protection.

“We’ve had a big surge in the number of people coming to the meetings,” Hausmann said in the original story. “We wanted to make sure security is always a priority. We wanted to be proactive and respecting the fact more people were attending.”

At the last meeting, police escorted Rice, Kerrigan, and Carlson to their cars without being asked. No one is sure what prompted the escort, but board minority members Montagu, Howard and Ward were not escorted.

Howard continued to disrupt the meeting and speak out of order after the contract failed to pass.

“Thank you for putting our students first,” Howard said abruptly. “Your priorities speak loudly.”

After Kerrigan reminded her that she was out of order, Howard continued to speak over him, contending the United States Constitution was being violated.

“My freedom of speech is being limited,” she said.

Although what happens next is unknown, teachers will not be unprotected, Miller said. They are employed through the end of June and their pay cycle goes through the end of July. They will not lose any benefits, either. Should a contract not be negotiated by then, they will continue under a contract similar to what they have now, just without the union element, Miller said.

“I am not aware of any plans for a meeting before the 15th,” Miller said. “The board clearly asked that the negotiating team reconsider the key points from the April 1 meeting, not the April 15 meeting, and has the expectation that the negotiation teams will reconsider those 11 items that were arrived at on April 1.”


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