Breaking: Jeffco Teachers Union Calls for Impasse over Pay Dispute

Developing story… Last night the board of the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA)( (Colorado’s largest local teachers union and an affiliate of the Colorado Education Association) voted to declare an impasse in negotiations over renewing the collective bargaining contract with Jeffco Public Schools for the 2009-10 school year. This morning JCEA notified the school district of its decision.

According to the school district, the core of the dispute revolves around a proposed compensation agreement to address relative funding shortages during the current economic downturn. Under this plan, teachers would continue to receive their automatic steps and levels for acquiring seniority and credit hours.

The plan rejected by JCEA also would offer teachers an additional one-time 1 percent pay bonus for November 2009, making the increase permanent for 2010-11 if an additional $11 million in state funds comes through after budget projections are updated in January 2010.

(Editorial comment: At first glance, given the current economic downturn and the plight of many in the community, this creative proposal seems eminently fair.)

To its credit, Jeffco Public Schools has done well maintaining healthy reserves within the general fund to call upon in hard times like those facing us now. The district has carefully used some of the reserves to make up for shortages. The point of contention appears to be that JCEA wants the district to dig even deeper into those reserves.

The district’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (PDF) from June 30, 2008, shows nearly $58 million of general funds in various reserves following total budgeted expenditures of nearly $718 million for the 2007-08 school year. I have not seen a more recent analysis of the reserve and total general fund balances, nor of expenditures for 2008-09.

Following the declaration of an impasse, the terms of the existing Jeffco-JCEA bargaining contract specify that both sides must agree to a list of 5 qualified arbitrators from which a neutral third party will select someone to perform mediation. No official timetable is set for when the process might occur.

At least one teacher I’ve communicated with tells me there have been rumblings of the S-word (i.e., strike) at the school where he works. However, it’s not likely that serious threats (if indeed there will be any) would emerge until next fall when school resumes for 2009-2010. I certainly don’t want to see such an action unfold. The last time a major teacher strike occurred in Colorado (1994) taxpayers ended up footing the bill for extra paid days.

Jefferson County district officials and union leaders most recently reached a negotiations impasse in 2007 — when ironically JCEA refused to give up a grievance provision protecting probationary (non-tenured) teachers in exchange for higher pay. In 2005, I wrote an Independence Institute backgrounder on the need to remove the harmful provision — titled Nullifying the Probationary Period: Extra Job Protection for Many New Jeffco Teachers Takes Priority over Kids (PDF).

For a blast from the past, click the play button below to listen to an iVoices podcast I recorded with Jon Caldara in April 2007, discussing the union’s controversial stance in renegotiating the contract:

JCEA eventually agreed to a compromise that phased out the harmful grievance provision over three years. As for this year’s version of the dispute, stay tuned for updates.

Comments

  1. Chris says

    During economic hard times many citizens have no problem asking teachers to “take one for the community,” by accepting less then an inflation adjustment. During the good economic times of the 90’s and early 2000’s I don’t remember teachers getting raises that paralleled the private sector. Teachers asking for a COLA increase equal to inflation now, is deferred compensation that they deserve. They already live pay check to pay check. I ask one person making 500,000 a year to take a 4% pay cut, live off of 480,000 a year, so 12.5 teachers can receive a cost of living increase of 4%.

  2. says

    Thanks, Chris. I think your comment points to the bigger structural problem with how teachers currently are paid. My solution is we need to fix that first. As a policy trade-off, I’d much rather cut the poorest-performing teachers from the rolls, raise teacher pay, and offer bonuses & salary increases for meeting academic growth objectives and other performance measures.

  3. Chris says

    While I agree with all of your suggestions in theory, human beings are not as easily quantifiable as profits and revenue. How do you compare the success of two teachers in the same school who serve different populations? Teacher A has all AP classes and her students score amazing on state exams. However, if you examine his teaching practices, they would be considered dry and mediocre. The family life and support was the largest contributor to his/her/ students’ success. Teacher B has all remedial classes. Observations of his/her room show creative research based lesson planning. However, despite his/her hard work, the students lacking the emotional support from home continue to skip classes, don’t turn in work, and show minimal growth. Teacher B is qualitatively the better teacher, while teacher A is average but gets paid more.

    Human beings are more than just numbers. It is too difficult and subjective to effectively evaluate. I wouldn’t want to be given the responsibility of giving out bonuses.

  4. says

    The choices available to us in public policy almost never include a perfect one. We can come up with a better way to pay teachers than the current system, and it’s not merely by looking at raw achievement scores. The 21st century version of performance pay is clearly a better alternative than the old, factory model, steps-and-lanes salary schedule. New academic growth models allow us insight into patterns of individual students’ academic progress. Along with other individualized student growth objectives, these can provide the basis for rewarding teacher quality.

    But don’t overlook other contributing incentives, including school-wide or department awards. Consistent successful ratings on objective evaluation criteria. Incentives to take on challenging school or job assignments.

    You get what you pay for. Right now, what we (largely) pay for in education is longevity and credentials. The disconnect between the pay system and the fundamental purpose of our education system is startling. It’s no surprise that serious merit-based compensation reform is growing in acceptance, implementation, and bipartisan political support.

    The suggestions are more than just a theory. They can be done, and if done right, they will much better serve the interests of students, communities, and excellent teachers.

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