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Tentative Jeffco Schools contract agreement now in question

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A contract agreement hammered out Thursday between Jeffco Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association may be in jeopardy after Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt asked the district negotiation team to request changes in the agreement. Both sides sent out press releases about the dispute on Sunday.

The negotiating teams had agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding for the 2014-15 school year late in the day on Thursday with the help of a federal mediator. According to JCEA, the district negotiating team regularly communicated with the school board as proposals were exchanged and details were tentatively decided.

On Friday morning, the Jeffco Schools team contacted JCEA to request additional changes to the agreement, largely related to restrictions on step increases. The Jeffco Schools press release said the “district team wanted to ensure non-probationary teachers, who were rated as not effective or partially effective, would not be eligible for a step increase.”

The Denver Post reported that the MOU both parties had agreed to on Thursday included an average 2.5 percent increase for teachers, except those rated “ineffective.” The MOU also included an increase in new teacher starting salaries, retention of the same health care plan for all employees and maintaining current class sizes.

“The bottom line is Ken Witt is attempting to renegotiate the tentative agreement the negotiating teams already agreed to,” the JCEA press release said. The JCEA Council voted to not allow the changes into the already-signed agreement and forwarded it to their members for a vote.

“The district believes it is important to differentiate in terms of compensation between the vast majority of teachers who are rated effective and the small number of teachers who haven’t met that standard,” Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt said in a press release. The press release also said that Witt hoped JCEA would only ask its members to vote on an agreement that “we, as a board, can support.”

“We have consistently asked for the board majority to be open and transparent about their budget and bargaining priorities to prevent bad faith bargaining,” JCEA’s press release countered. “The reality is that the board majority never gave their bargaining team the proper information and authority to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement.”

JCEA declared impasse and walked out of negotiations on April 7, in part because the school board had not yet given the district negotiating any direction regarding teacher compensation, despite a request from JCEA a week earlier. The Jeffco School Board asked JCEA to submit a letter stating their conditions to return to the bargaining table, but did not approve JCEA’s conditions for a three-year contract extension at the board’s April 24 meeting.

JCEA's current contract expires in August 2015. Jeffco Schools teachers have not had a raise in four years.

This was the first year that contract negotiations had been open to the public. Mediation began May 8.

Two of the school board’s five members have refused to vote to go into executive session to discuss contract negotiations in recent weeks, in part because they had received an email from Brad Miller, the Jeffco School Board’s attorney, stating she could be held personally liable if she did not follow his legal advice. Board member Jill Fellman said she would be securing a personal attorney to receive further legal advice before voting to go into executive sessions to discuss contract negotiations. Both Fellman and member Lesley Dahlkemper have stated repeatedly that they support a 2.5 percent compensation increase for teachers this year.

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