Education, Featured, PERA, Sherrie Peif, Thompson

Thompson School District votes down contract for second time in two weeks

Thompson School District Board of Education member Lori Hvizda Ward reacts with teachers after a 4-3 vote defeated a teacher's contract for the second time in two weeks. Ward was very vocal in her opposition to board members who voted against the contract, at times making accusations she had no proof.  Credit -- Sherrie Peif
Thompson School District Board of Education member Lori Hvizda Ward reacts with teachers after a 4-3 vote defeated a union contract for the second time in two weeks. Ward was very vocal in her opposition to board members who voted against the contract. Credit — Sherrie Peif

For the second time in as many weeks, the Thompson School District Board of Education voted against a new contract for its teachers, ending the collective bargaining process, and moving toward becoming the 140th school district in Colorado to move forward without a union.

It is the largest district to make such a move since Douglas County in 2012.

The 4-3 vote was split down a familiar line with school reform members Bob Kerrigan, Donna Rice, Bryce Carlson, and Carl Langner voting no, while Lori Hvizda Ward, Pam Howard, and Denise Montagu voted yes.

It is unclear what will happen next. After the meeting, board attorney Brad Miller said there is a disagreement over taking the process to mediation. One side believes mediation begins immediately. The other believes it requires a vote of the board to agree.

According to the current Memorandum of Understanding, which takes teachers through the end of June, the word “mutually” is used often. Article 7-4 of the MOU states: “All negotiations will be completed by May 15 unless both parties mutually agree to extend the negotiations past this deadline.”

Furthermore, 7-8-1(a) of the MOU says that “if no agreement is reached through the process of regular negotiations, Three on Three Intervention is a step/process that may be mutually agreed upon.”

Article 7-8-2(a) further supports the case for needing the board’s approval: “If the parties are unable to mutually agree upon a mediator within five days of the date that discussions were deemed to not be making progress, and the BOE and Association have mutually agreed to mediation …”

“We will have to sort that out,” Miller said.

The majority of board members are frustrated that the district’s negotiating team has ignored its requests to move many items currently in the contract into a handbook, to pilot a pay-for-performance model in 2016-17, and to roll back taxpayer-funded privileges exclusive to the union.

Accusations were raised that the board majority acted behind closed doors to form an MOU to its liking. However, as Complete Colorado has reported several times, dating back to the beginning of the process, Carlson has spoken up about the items in open meetings. The board further gave consensus guidance to have Miller draft a new MOU at its April 1 meeting.

On the other hand, two-by-two meetings that at minimum violate the spirit of Proposition 104 – the open negotiations law passed by 70 percent of Colorado voters last November – have continued to happen despite the board repeatedly telling Bill Siebers, executive director of Human Services, they are not comfortable with them and want them to stop.

Siebers contends that no negotiations take place in the two-by-twos. He says they are simply held to bring the district’s superintendent up to date on the process. However, he refuses to open them to the public to prove that is true.

“I cannot support this [MOU] for all those reasons,” Carlson said.

Prior to the meeting, the Thompson Education Association held a rally and parade outside the district headquarters. Several dozen teachers chanted “Power to the people” and held signs that read “Keep politics out of education,” “Attract and retain,” and “Honk if you respect teachers,” among others.

The rally was led by Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and fired up the teachers for what became a stir of emotions after the vote from the crowd and from board members Ward, Howard, and Montagu.

Kerrigan, Rice, Carlson, and Langner sat quietly and said nothing while, one after another, teachers, parents and fellow board members attacked them with negative comments. Audience members compared Kerrigan, who called for innovation in the contract, to Adolph Hitler, and shouted “Long live the king.” (The shout of “Hitler,” can be heard at approximately 5:32 of the audio below, and the shout of “Long live the King,” can be heard at approximately 6:35.)

They laughed at Rice and disrupted her when she tried to speak.

Ward called out fellow board member Carlson for writing opinion pieces for another newspaper and appearing on the Mandy Connell Show on AM 630 KHOW to discuss the piece. However, she didn’t point out that the column ran alongside a guest column written by TEA President Andy Crisman as part of a point-and-counterpoint segment done by many newspaper designed to get both sides of an argument.

Ward then attacked private residents for sending her email messages that called for a no vote on the MOU, alleging they were not credible, without offering proof of her claims.

“They were form letters from a mailing list,” Ward said. “Half of which were fake names, fake email addresses, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Ward has not taken issue, however, with an online petition created and paid for by the CEA in support of the TEA. It too was filled with anonymous, fake, and duplicated signatures supporting the union, many of which were either unsubstantiated or came from outside the district.

Montagu continued her repertoire of meeting disruptions by ignoring Roberts Rules of Order and yelling over board president Kerrigan while he tried to take a vote on the MOU.

Finally, audience members attacked Kerrigan for allegedly texting Nancy Rumfelt, a private resident during the meeting. Rumfelt showed Complete Colorado her phone after the meeting. According to Rumfelt, she had been texting her husband, “Bob,” but because of the way her screen is set up, all the Bob’s in her phone book appeared on the rail of the screen, including Kerrigan.

Private residents who spoke to the board in favor of the reform efforts were met with laughter, boos, and other comments that one woman said was exactly why more citizens who favor the board majority didn’t come forward.

“I am the voice for other parents who have said, ‘Please go speak for me. I cannot speak because my children are still in the school district, and I know that if I speak, my children will receive retribution,’” the unidentified woman said. “I know students who have said, ‘I would love to and speak, but I am afraid I will get retribution from other students.’”


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