It took less than 30 minute for the new Thompson School District Board of Education to return the district to the status quo and grant the Thompson Education Association (TEA) everything it asked for in last year’s negotiations.
The board voted 6-1 to approve a Memorandum of Understanding for 2015-16 that has been tied up in court for the past few months.
The court action began when TEA sued the district after the former board refused to ratify it, repeating thoughout the process that nothing about the contract was what they asked for.
Pam Howard moved to accept the MOU, saying it was “clearly past time.”
Howard, along with Denise Montagu and two other newcomers to the board – Jeff Swanty and Dave Levy — had successful election bids thanks in part to heavy funding through an independent expenditure committee backed heavily by the teachers union and progressive groups.
“It’s pretty exciting to bring back the teamwork that we’ve been known for in this district,” Howard said. “Approving this will increase morale, it will increase stability, and it will increase respect. And all those things will help our students. It is the most positive step to come together for the students and move forward.”
Bryce Carlson, the lone ‘no’ vote on the board, disagreed. He said his opinion of the contract was the same it has always been.
“It hasn’t changed since we discussed it for the last six months,” Carlson said. “I don’t think this is our only option. Obviously, given the result of the election, one way or another, whether we adopt tonight or head into January when we would typically start negotiations anyway, TEA will have a contract for 2016-17. We have an opportunity now to start negotiating a new contract from scratch, an opportunity you don’t have but every 40 years in this case.”
The others, including Carl Langner who previously stood with conservative majority, said approving it was more a show of good faith.
“It’s a very complicated document,” Langner said. “I liked parts of it, but I would like to see the document simplified further.”
Montagu seemed willing to mend some fences with Carlson and consider some of his ideas, but said approving it was gesture of good will.
“That was well said,” Montagu said of Carlson’s ideas. “You made good points. I think streamlining and clarifying those types of things, it does make sense; however, I feel it’s in best interest to approve it. Having a contract in place, I feel like we’re keeping administration and (human resources) streamlined.”
Montagu said she was concerned with how to negotiate without a contract – too many teachers and no proof that districts without unions have a higher achievement rates.
She also said she want to make sure that the community knew this was not the fault of the teachers.
“The teachers and their association have been scapegoated,” she said several times.
Human resources director Bill Siebers said the negotiations process for 2016-17 would begin Dec. 16 with a basic presentation to the board of how it works.
In other action, the board also transferred all legal representation to Caplan and Earnest after board attorney Brad Miller resigned his position. They also voted 7-0 to drop an appeal in the Colorado Court of Appeals that asked to overturn a Larimer District Court judge’s decision to force the board to accept the 2015-16 MOU.
Carlson voted yes on the motion because he said it was a moot point.
“Regardless of what the board does here, the appeal is over,” Carlson said, in reference to having already voted in the MOU in the earlier vote.
Howard said it finalizes the changes needed to restore the community’s faith with the board.
“It concludes what we need to do to move the district forward,” she said. “I feel the community is behind this. We are done using taxpayer money to go into the courtroom.”
Langner flipped on this vote, too, agreeing with Howard after months of voting the opposite way.
“We have spent way too much money on litigation on both sides — certainly our district,” he said. “One of our 10 principals we’re to follow is fiscal responsibility.”