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Jeffco School Board sends JCEA contract to fact finding in contentious meeting

The Jeffco School Board sent the JCEA contract to fact finding, approved a contract with Jeffco's classified school employees, and approved a salary package of $280,000 at its June 5 meeting.
The Jeffco School Board sent the JCEA contract to fact finding, approved a contract with Jeffco's classified school employees, and approved a salary package of $280,000 at its June 5 meeting.
Lisa Cook

June 5 was another busy night for the Jeffco School Board as they held the first public hearing on the budget, discussed the new superintendent’s salary, approved a contract with the Jeffco Classified School Employees Association, and failed to approve the signed tentative agreement between the Jefferson County Education Association. The board voted 3 to 2 to send the entire tentative agreement to fact finding, largely over a dispute over whether teachers with a partially effective evaluation should be eligible for a step increase.

“To the extent that this agreement has the requirement for raises to less than effective teachers, I cannot endorse it,” said Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt. “We reached substantial agreement, but that point was a point I cannot endorse.”

Board member Jill Fellman pointed out that this is the first year the district has used a new evaluation rubric. Fellman said that only 56 teachers were rated partially ineffective, and she wasn’t willing to throw out an agreement for 4600 teachers for such a tiny number of teachers evaluated under the new system.

Board member John Newkirk echoed Witt’s comments. “This agreement is written as asking us to increase a less than effective teacher’s pay at the same level we’re increasing a highly effective teacher’s pay,” he said. He said he preferred to let the process go to fact finding. Newkirk also suggested directing those funds to professional development for those teachers so they would become more successful.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper outlined several parts of the agreement that met the board’s goals, including step increases that referenced performance evaluation ratings for the first time, that work on a new pay structure would begin immediately after the agreement is approved and that the new pay structure would be considered by the school board in January 2015. In addition, she said, the agreement increases starting pay for new teachers and that other dollars that would have gone to salaries are covering PERA increases.

“This is a modest salary increase after teachers have seen a pay freeze for four years,” Dahlkemper said. “It’s time to move forward and to show by our actions, not by our talk, that we value our teachers. Let’s approve this agreement.”

Board member Julie Williams said, “I do want to show respect and appreciation for our teachers, but if you have a partially-effective teacher we need to refocus on our children. If you have several partially ineffective teachers, it’s going to hurt our kids.”

“I think what we should do is work collaboratively as a board, recognize that this is a negotiation,” Dahlkemper said. “Both sides may not be 100 percent happy with the results, but we’re close and we have a ratified agreement with JCEA. Let’s move forward and approve the agreement tonight.”

Newkirk disagreed. “We will compensate our teachers. The money, the placeholder we’re talking about, will not change,” he said. But, Newkirk added, he could not support the tentative agreement in its current form.

The board also argued over whether the entire agreement should go to fact finding or only certain items, like compensation. Jeffco Schools legal counsel James Branum told the board, “the contractual language and the intent of that language is to take to fact-finding only those issues that remain in dispute.” He asked Newkirk to clarify whether the entire agreement should go to fact finding, or only the compensation issue.

Newkirk said he had additional issues with the tentative agreement, including the fact that due to the step increase system approximately 500 teachers would not receive a pay increase this year. Fellman countered that teachers are aware of how the steps system works and ratified the agreement.

Lorie Gillis, Chief Financial Officer, told the board that fact finding is costly and time consuming. She explained that every single line item of the contract would be reviewed if the board sent the entire agreement to fact finding, including items about which the two parties agreed or substantially agreed.

Dahlkemper asked the three majority members why the entire agreement needed to go to fact finding. Witt responded that it was because there wasn’t agreement and because the entire tentative agreement had been rejected.

The board voted 3 to 2 to send the entire agreement to fact finding. During fact finding, both parties present facts to a third party who will make recommendations on an agreement. The process is non-binding.

The vote was hinted at during a board study session earlier that evening. The agenda included time for an executive session before the regular meeting, but Dahlkemper and Fellman questioned the need. Witt said the executive session was to discuss next steps if a contract was not approved.

“I believe it’s premature to have that conversation,” Dahlkemper responded. “We haven’t even had the conversation as a board yet about the two agreements.”

“Tonight’s decision marks the first time ever in the history of Jefferson County Public Schools that a Board voted to not ratify a tentative contract agreement with educators after their negotiations team signed off on that agreement,” JCEA President John Ford said. Both parties had signed the tentative agreement on May 8.

The next morning, members of the district's negotiating team contacted JCEA and asked them to include new language excluding teachers rated partially effective from the step increase. Because the agreement had already been signed, JCEA chose to send the signed agreement to their members for ratification.

The Jeffco School Board did unanimously vote to approve the contract for the district's classified employees with Jeffco CSEA. Before approving the contract however, Newkirk again questioned the step system, and Williams asked about the evaluation system and whether all the classified school employees were “highly effective.”

Earlier in the meetings, several speakers had addressed the board asking them to approve the JCEA tentative agreement. Twenty-nine spoke and 16 asked the board to approve the agreement or otherwise expressed dissatisfaction with many of the school board majority’s decisions.

Teacher Erin Murphy asked the board to approve the agreement, explaining that four years without any pay increases resulted in her making $9,000 less than anticipated. “I made these sacrifices because I wanted financial cuts to stay away fro my classroom and away from my students. But we’ve reached a tipping point. If great teachers can’t afford to work here, it will hurt the students in a way that will be insurmountable,” she said. “We’re here to compromise. Don’t turn us away.”

Another commenter asked Witt to censure Williams for a Facebook post asking people to speak in support of her conservative agenda, and a more recent email. Martha Patton told the board that she was a registered Republican and had received an email through a small private group from Williams asking people to sign up to represent the reform voice. “Ms. Williams you represent my district of Jefferson County but you do not represent me,” she said, asking him to censure Williams for not being non-partisan as required by board by-laws.

Three others spoke in favor of recent decisions, and one other said he was happy with their selection of Daniel McMinimee as superintendent but not in favor of the proposed $280,000 salary the board majority favored.

The amount of time allotted to public comment had also been a hot topic, as the board majority refused to allow more than 45 minutes for public comment part one (agenda-related comments), despite having done so at every meeting prior to that. Previous rules had stated that the board would hear public comment part one and as much as public comment part two as fit within a 45 minute time-span, but those rules allowed for public comment part one to take as long as necessary. At past meetings, such as the one involving charter school funding, the first part of public comment extended to three hours.

Dahlkemper made a motion to extend part one as long as necessary to include everyone who had signed up. Witt said no, stating, “It’s a bad precedent.” “Listening to our community is a bad precedent?” Dahlkemper responded.

Another six individuals spoke during a separate public comment session on the proposed 2014-15 budget. One group who spoke included teachers who identified themselves as registered Republicans and registered Democrats. They told the board, “ “Effective education is a non-partisan issue,” and asked McMinimee not to add students to their classes or to institute a higher class load for teachers as he did in Douglas County.

A group of representatives from the Jeffco Charter School Consortium and a parent from Compass Montessori asked the board to add the other $3.7 million that charter schools identify as a funding gap in Jeffco this year by using the increases in state funding to do so. “Why not fund the full $7.4 million this year?” he asked the board, adding, “This fundamental unfairness exists and has existed for years. The sooner you address it, the better.”

The funding gap is largely attributed to a difference in how mill levy override funds are distributed. Jeffco Schools has made a portion of funds from the 2012 mill levy override and two previous overrides available to charter schools even though state laws did not require it. Denver Public Schools remedied the situation when voters approved a mill levy override to equalize charter school funding.

Per-pupil revenue will increase $360 this year, for a total of $6,842 per pupil in Jeffco. That amount remains below 2009-10 numbers, when Jeffco students received $7,070 per pupil.

Fellman made a motion to lower the $3.7 earmarked for charter schools to $1.8 in new state funding plus the amount that charter schools would specifically be receiving from the state. That amount would be approximately equal to the original increase and free up money for other district needs.

She also suggested that Jeffco could do what Denver Public Schools had done to equalize the mill levy override funding. DPS asked voters to approve a mill levy override to make up the difference in funds received by charters versus neighborhood schools and voters approved it. She asked the other board members to empower Jeffco’s charter school parents to run a mill levy override campaign the way DPS did.

“I think throughout the comments tonight regardless of where people come down on these different issues, there has been a clear call for better balance,” Dahlkemper said. “We’ve heard repeatedly from our community that the board has not listened to the 13,000 people who filled out the budget survey, to the hundreds of people who participated in community engagement, and I would also say the charter school parents who have come forward both in public comment and in emails to the board.”

Witt scoffed at the suggestion that raising taxes, even for charter schools, was ever a good use of taxpayer money. The motion failed, 3-2.

Discussion about the final draft of the new superintendent’s contract also garnered strong opinions. Bini Abbott, a longtime Arvada resident and former non-union teacher, told the board that offering $240,000 base pay plus another $40,000 in performance pay was unreasonable. “This is not a compromise or concession, but an outrageous amount to pay an unproven finalist whose claim to fame is helping to smash the teachers union in Douglas County,” she said.

Jeffco parent Jeff Kirk agreed, asking why the board majority called itself fiscally conservative but wanted to pay $280,000 for an inexperienced superintendent. “I think you should reconsider either your choice for the superintendent or at least his salary because $280,000 for a brand-new superintendent with no experience is simply too much regardless of who he is.”

Motions by the majority members to allow change the draft from a six-month buyout to a 12-month buyout and to move the date to draft a plan regarding performance payments from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15 passed 3-2. Motions by the minority to move to a year-to-year contract reduce the salary base pay to $200,000 and to not compensate personal PERA contributions failed 3-2. The motion to approve the final draft of the contract passed 3-2.

The contract will pay new Jeffco Superintendent Daniel McMinimee a base salary of $220,000 with an additional $40,000 available in performance pay. Performance pay goals will be focused on addressing student achievement, the development of district leadership, evaluation of district employees and communication with the board.

In addition, McMinimee will be reimbursed for up to $20,000 of personal PERA contributions, bringing the total compensation package to $280,000. Gillis confirmed that the practice of reimbursing personal PERA contributions for superintendents is a common practice in Colorado. The district had reimbursed Former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s personal contributions, Gillis said.

The second hearing on the budget will be June 19 at the Education Center. Public comment on the budget will be limited to one hour.