Teacher Union Prepared to Thwart Autonomy Reform, Its Own Members?

Today is the day of truth (again) for the union that represents Denver public school teachers. As the editors of the Rocky Mountain News highlight today, observers want to know whether they will vote Yes and grant the request for freedom from district bureaucracy and union work rules, or vote No and stand squarely in the way of educational progress for a high-poverty school:

We’re heartened by this spontaneous uprising. It has been led as much by unionized teachers as by school management; two-thirds of Bruce Randolph’s DCTA members backed autonomy, and at Manual the vote was unanimous. The DPS board unanimously approved Bruce Randolph’s request last month, so the district is open to giving some schools more control.

But the union brass has balked. Union officials insist they aren’t rejecting the autonomy request. Instead, at a Jan. 8 vote, the board said it needed more time “to identify which provisions to the contract, if any, impede student achievement.” Union President Kim Ursetta echoed those sentiments when she spoke with us after the vote. She called the Bruce Randolph proposal “vague.”

Some suggested answers were provided here. With responses to their query in hand, will union officials and union attorneys still lock arms and stand in front of the schoolhouse door? More ironically, will they stand in the way of their own members?:

The union’s stalling could backfire. Greg Ahrnsbrak, the DCTA representative at Bruce Randolph, told us that the teachers’ resolve to push for the autonomy agreement has only intensified since the board delayed its decision.

After all, as Ahrnsbrak said, the union is supposed to represent the views of its membership, and the faculty at some schools have passionately embraced autonomy. “You would think the union would support its members,” he said.

You’d think that, but when it comes to a power play like this one, you might just be wrong. The scuttlebutt I’ve heard suggests DCTA will vote No. If this proves to be true, it will be a real shame. But it will also be a clarifying moment in the struggle for badly needed school reform.

Who is on which side? We should know more by tomorrow.


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