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.