Education, Featured, K-12 Transparancy, PERA, Sherrie Peif, Top News

Adams 12 Five Star Schools district negotiations model other districts could follow

Despite the last couple of years of tension in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, it appears that both sides of the negotiating table are finding a way to do what’s right by teachers and students.

During negotiating sessions earlier this month, members of the negotiating team representing both the district and the District Twelve Education Association hammered out what appears to be the final details of a contract, and without the snickers, rude comments, and sometimes aggressive behavior playing out in many other districts across the state.

“It’s been very positive,” said Mark Hinson, who has been chief human resources officer for the district for 17 years. “Negotiations are adversarial by design. It is stymied by feelings and reactions. But the dynamic of this team with two board members and the superintendent has been positive.”

The design, in fact, is one that is rare. Few if any districts, especially ones the size of Adams 12 – the state’s sixth largest with just under 39,000 students – incorporate board members or superintendents into their negotiation teams.

However, according to Hinson, this is the second year Adams 12 has moved in this direction. Adding interest-based bargaining — or “interest based strategies” as Adams 12 refers – is paying off, he said.

“It brings a new style and approach to bargaining,” said Hinson. “The process has changed the dynamic.”

Much of the motivation is based on a “beat Jeffco” theme, both in compensation and test scores. Not everything was positive. There was some eye-rolling and snickering between a couple of current and retired teachers when board of education member Norm Jennings suggested certain reform-oriented changes. For the most part, though, everyone agreed that education and how it is managed is changing.

Among some of the decisions agreed on were:

  • An increase in the starting salary for incoming teachers equaling $1,500 for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree and one or two years of experience.
  • A 2 percent cost of living increase for all teachers.
  • District will pay the 0.5 percent increase to the Public Employees Retirement Account (PERA).
  • A one-half step (years of experience raise) in March 2016 for the 2015-16 school year, with the full step to carry forward each year thereafter.
  • Another conversation after the first of year about more increases if revenues are higher than expected.
  • A three-tier signing bonus that includes $2,000 for the most difficult to hire positions, $1,500 for moderately hard to hire, and $1,000 for the least difficult but still hard to hire. There are about 60-65 positions in these categories.
  • New software programs for student support services.
  • More professional development.

It is unknown when the final memorandum of understanding on the contract will go before the board. An update from Hinson is scheduled for tonight’s meeting, but not a formal vote.

The two groups have also worked well on developing pilot program for other strategic compensation packages, Hinson said.

“We have made significant changes,” Hinson said. “Not just with programming but compensation as well.”

This is true especially for long-term ideas, Hinson said, such as looking at how the district can reward and develop the careers of teachers who do not want to go into administration.

“We need leadership capacity in our buildings, such as master teachers,” he said. “So we’re going to take a look at how we can more formally develop those.”

Additionally, the district plans to look at market-based compensation in its area and see how district salaries compare to the private sector for certain positions that directly compete, such as nurses, therapists and audiologists, he said.

“I anticipate we will do some extensive work on it and not just rush into it,” he said.

In fact, the idea of taking their time stems from watching teachers’ unions in the state –such as the Jefferson Education Association and the Greeley Education Association – sue their respective districts. At one meeting, Beau Foubert, director of professional development for Adams 12, said people are looking for a something that gives them meaning and a sense of contribution.

“I think the frustration around education is it is so hard to move forward,” Foubert said. “I feel there is a lot of momentum and new way of thinking. There is an opportunity to be an organization that moves forward, rises about the rhetoric and stays out of the courthouse. But it will take time. We need a culture built gradually and a series of actions that match our aspiration and values.”

Hinson said the district will also continue to talk about tying salaries to performance.

“We haven’t talked about how that would look individually yet,” he said. “But we have talked about how we can reward groups or buildings, but there is nothing formal. We have to have an evaluation system that the staff feels confident with and one that serves as a reliable backdrop when we begin to differentiate pay.”

Hinson said he was pleased overall with how things had gone this year, and expects them to continue in that direction.

“It’s gone very well,” he said. “The superintendent is very much involved with the nuances in the district as a whole. He can provide the ‘more of this, less of this.’ He has a pulse for the district. And when he is in the room with the teachers, it establishes an environment for honest conversation.”

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