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Jeffco School Board rejects fact finder recommendations at Aug. 28 meeting

Fact finder recommendations about teacher contract negotations were rejected on a 3-2 vote by the Jeffco School Board at their Aug. 28 meeting.
Fact finder recommendations about teacher contract negotations were rejected on a 3-2 vote by the Jeffco School Board at their Aug. 28 meeting.Lisa Cook

The Jeffco School Board rejected the recommendations of an objective third-party fact-finding report on teacher contract negotiations by a 3–2 vote at its Aug. 28 meeting. Board President Ken Witt then unveiled his new plan for teacher compensation increases in the 2014-15 year.

The fact-finding report had stated that the current evaluation system was not suitable for making salary distinctions, and as a result recommended that teachers rated partially effective receive step increases. It also recommended that the Jefferson County Education Association and Jeffco Schools work together to improve the evaluation system. If this was accomplished successfully, the report recommended not giving increases to teachers rated partially effective for the 2015-16 school year.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee explained the board's options: they could accept the fact finder recommendations, which amounted to accepting the signed tentative agreement, or reject the report and vote instead to implement the redlined tentative agreement — which said that teachers rated partly-effective would not receive a step increase — that board members had expressed support for in May. His staff had written motions for either option.

“We’d like to see these processed in time for the September payroll. We respectfully ask for your action tonight,” McMinimee told the board. McMinimee also told the board that his staff’s recommendation was to reject the fact finder’s agreement and vote to implement the redlined tentative agreement.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman supported the fact-finding recommendations. Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams voted to reject the recommendations.

JCEA has made it very clear that they are more than willing to look at and would approve no step for teachers rated partially effective in the following school year,” Dahlkemper said. “I think that’s fair. I think that what we’re doing by voting not to accept the fact finder’s report is changing the rules in the middle of the game, and I don’t think that’s fair to our teachers who stood shoulder to shoulder with us in this district through very tough economic times.”

“This fact finding report doesn’t adequately address my concerns, and until I see something that does, I can’t vote to approve it,” Newkirk said. He said that he thought all teachers should get a raise, and under the JCEA’s step increase system, not all teachers would receive a raise this year.

Newkirk that teachers rated partly effective should receive more professional development but not a raise. In addition, he said starting salaries should be higher and that the five-year salary cap for teachers who transfer into the district should be moved.

Williams also disagreed with the fact-finding report. She said that the report stated the current evaluation system had been in place since the 2007-2008 academic year and had been developed by the district and JCEA.

“If the evaluation system was good enough to evaluate our kids, it should be good enough to evaluate our teachers,” Williams said. “Just because they’re having salary tied to performance shouldn’t mean that they should have to perform higher or lower; they should be performing high every day. So I don’t think that an evaluation system should make a difference in whether a teacher is working at their utmost.”

Witt talked about the board’s goal to have an effective teacher in every classroom. “We should not reward less than effective teachers, but instead we should motivate them and support them to become effective teachers,” he said.

Dahlkemper reminded the board members that fact-finding report raised concerns about the reliability of the current evaluation system. “If we’re really focused on making sure we have an effective teacher in every school, we need to make sure we have a sound, rigorous, valid reliable evaluation system that helps us define effectiveness,” she said.

The fact-finding report stated, “The results of the District’s current evaluation system raise questions regarding inter-rater reliability, and thus the validity of evaluations between schools.” It also noted that receiving a higher or lower mark on only one of 23 indicators could shift a teacher’s rating from effective to partially effective.

The report detailed how the percentage of teachers highly effective, effective and partially effective varied from school to school. In some schools, all teachers were rated effective or higher, while in others, 20 percent or more of teachers were rated partially effective. “These figures reflect extreme variations in ratings from school to school,” the report continued. “To a significant extent the District’s evaluation process lacks the degree of inter-rater reliability necessary to make valid salary distinctions.”

Witt instead proposed a different compensation model. Under his proposed model, only teachers rated effective or highly effective would receive an increase, and teachers rated highly effective would receive an increase that is at least 50 percent higher than the increase received by teachers rated effective.

However, if teachers rated effective already receive an “above market” salary, as defined by the school board, they will receive bonuses in lieu of salary increases. Although Witt’s resolution only stated “effective teachers,” his comments at the board meeting suggested that would also be true for teachers with an above-market salary who were rated highly effective.

In addition, all full-time teachers whose salary is lower than $37,600 will have their compensation increased to $38,000 per year, regardless of their effectiveness rating. Witt’s compensation plan also includes state-mandated PERA increases for all teachers.

Fellman said that if she were a teacher rated highly effective, even if she was receiving a bonus, she would feel like this was not a reward but a “gotcha.” Dahlkemper reiterated that introducing a new system at this point was like changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Newkirk said he liked the model and also wanted to see the numbers that would be involved. Dahlkemper added that she wanted to see what the financial implications would be for sustaining this model for the next three to five years.

Witt asked district staff to work out numbers for his system by Sept. 2 so board members could review them and vote on the model at the Sept. 4 meeting. Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis said that her office may or may not be able to have the numbers ready in time for Thursday’s meeting. Gillis also said that because the compensation system is complex and will require many adjustments, the model is not something the district could have ready for October paychecks.

The Jeffco School Board is expected to take up the matter again at its Sept. 4 meeting. A discussion of Witt’s proposed compensation model is scheduled for a 5:30 pm study session in the Education Center Board Room. The meeting will be streamed.