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Jeffco Schools contract negotiations to move into mediation

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The Jeffco School Board and the Jefferson County Education Association will move into mediation after a request to approve a requested three-year contract extension failed. Contract negotiations were discussed in an open meeting after a motion to move into executive session failed during Thursday’s meeting.

Board member Jill Fellman explained that she did not feel she could vote to move into executive session on this matter until she had retained her own lawyer. Her comments followed an email sent to her and other board members by Jeffco School Board lawyer Brad Miller.

“Today, Mr. Miller sent a message to me and others, telling me that if individual board members do not take his legal advice in connection with contract negotiation, those board members might face legal liability,” Fellman told the board.

Fellman noted that the board members had received legal advice to appeal the decision about the 2090 Wright Street property from the district’s firm, Caplan and Earnest, who have been handling the case, but the board majority had voted against the appeal. She said Miller did not warn them they could be personally liable about ignoring legal advice in that case.

But, Fellman said, “When the board majority insists on holding executive sessions, which in my opinion are not appropriate, I get an email message from Mr. Miller telling me I may be personally liable if I don’t take his legal advice. Given the inconsistent nature of his advice, I believe I need to seek personal legal counsel,” Fellman said. “Before I can vote to move into executive session, I will be seeking my own individual legal counsel.”

Board members John Newkirk and Ken Witt, however, said they did not feel comfortable discussing any contract matters in open session. “At this point I’m not willing to go into any other negotiation discussion,” Witt said.

Newkirk noted that slides he believed to be confidential had been projected in open meeting, and subsequently recorded and posted online by members of the public. Those who attend Jeffco School Board meetings are not prohibited from videotaping, recording or taking photos of open meetings.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said she wanted to raise the issue of a 2.5 percent salary increase for employees, which had been discussed in open session during the previous board meeting. “I want to ensure that I am on the record on that particular issue,“ Dahlkemper said.

“There is nothing confidential, there is nothing that needs to be hidden,” Dahlkemper said. “These are employees who weathered very tough financial storms with us.”

JCEA declared impasse during negotiations on April 7. In a subsequent board meeting, Board President Ken Witt asked JCEA to submit a letter stating their conditions for returning to the negotiation table. JCEA responded with a request for a three-year contract extension.

In other board news, Bill Newman of search firm Ray and Associates told the board that they had a robust pool of superintendent candidates and would begin the screening process on Friday, which was the application deadline.

Newman said he would meet with the board on May 5 to review candidates. Newman explained that candidates are expecting to be reviewed in executive session at that meeting, because many don’t want to jeopardize their current positions by revealing that they are considering other options.

Board member Julie Williams asked if their board attorney and Caplan and Earnest, the firm that represents Jeffco Schools, could be present at that meeting. Newman said that would be fine, and other districts have done the same.

The next step is for the Jeffco School Board to compile about 20 questions to ask semifinalists. Those questions need to be decided before the May 5 meeting so the board members can focus on looking at the top candidates at that meeting.

The superintendent search timeline calls for the board to interview semi-finalist superintendent candidates on May 9 and 10. Interviews with finalists for the superintendent position are scheduled for May 15.

A review of board policies GP-1 and GP-2 sparked a conversation about a redacted bill from the new board attorney later in the meeting. Fellman asked why everything but dates and dollar amounts had been redacted.

“I don’t think that’s transparency,” Fellman said. The copy of the invoice for services rendered by Miller’s firm to the Jeffco School Board in February had been obtained by an advocacy group, Support Jeffco Kids, through an open records request.

Witt said he did not know who had redacted the bill, but thought Miller probably had. He argued that school board members could read it, but that as Miller’s clients, that information shouldn’t be available to the public.

Dahlkemper said that personnel and student matters need to be kept private, but everything else should be transparent. A request by Dahlkemper and Fellman to have a public discussion about the scope of work and other terms of the contract was turned down once again, as Witt claimed that discussion had already taken place and Dahlkemper pointed out that the contract had not been available when it was approved, and the scope of work and financial terms were not disclosed during the December meeting.

Applicants for the new Jeffco Schools Technology and Data Privacy Committee were also selected during the meeting. The selection process itself was debated, as Fellman and Dahlkemper requested that each board member nominated two applicants, while the other three argued for and eventually approved a process of nominating and voting on each candidate on a 3 to 2 vote.

Nine members were selected, with the option to add more at a later date if board members desired. Sunny Flynn, Jennifer Butts, Michele Hovet, Jill Green, T. O. Owens, Derec Shuler, John Sullivan, Yuri Csapo and Phillip Romig were selected for the committee.

The Jeffco School Board also heard a presentation about the roles of school accountability committees and reviewed the proposed budget. The amount of money, if any, to be put into reserves was debated as Witt argued that 10 percent in reserves was adequate while Fellman and Dahlkemper argued that reserves need to be rebuilt so they can provide a cushion to classrooms in the case of future budget cuts.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for May 1. It will be held in the auditorium of Bear Creek High School, 9800 W. Dartmouth Pl., in Lakewood. The study session will begin at 5:30 and the regular board meeting will begin at 6:30 pm.

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