JeffCo school board and union tentatively agree to scaled-down, shortened contract

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Update, 8/28: The Board of Education unanimously approved the new, leaner union contract at its August 27 meeting.

With school scheduled to start Monday, Jefferson County Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) came to terms on a new agreement with only a few days to spare.

The contract isn’t exactly what union negotiators were hoping for, but they did win some concessions during a a 11th-hour compromise.

Most at issue was the 10-month term that requires both parties to come back to the table at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

File photo - Todd Shepherd
File photo – Todd Shepherd

The idea of a shorter-term contract not long ago had been expressly rejected by union officials. Just a couple of weeks ago, JCEA president John Ford sent an email to all Jeffco board members asking them to personally come to the negotiation table to discuss the term.

“The district’s team indicated a ten-month agreement was all they were prepared to offer,” Ford said in the letter, which is posted on the union’s Website. “After spending five months at the table, and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, it does not seem worthwhile to repeat this whole process in a little over six months.”

Seeking to align the union contract with the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the district did not waver. According to the JCEA website, union members are scheduled to vote on contract ratification at its next meeting on August 21, while rumors and whispers of a strike still circulate around the district.

If adopted by JCEA membership, the Jeffco board then would approve the agreement, either at a special meeting called during the study session on August 27 or at its next regular meeting on September 3.
The agreement made sweeping changes to the decades old document, including reducing the fodder from 121 pages to 41.

“It is my hope that this agreement meets the goals of an effective teacher in every class, recognition and reward of our great teachers, and most efficient application of our limited education resources to maximize student academic achievement,” said board president Ken Witt.

Additionally, it removed items that seemed out of place or ridiculous, such as the instance of teachers being involuntarily transferred or displaced, or determining which teacher’s job is saved in the case there are two teachers but only one position. In both cases, the decision has been required to be made with a “flip of a coin.”

The contract also makes compensation changes subject to an annual professional evaluation rating, rather than a predetermined raised based on number of years in the district and education. Finally, JCEA no longer has privileged exclusive access to communicate with teachers using district systems and property.

The JCEA website said in past years the two teams bargained a specific number of items in the contract, but this year it was a “blank sheet.”

“We used this entire process as an opportunity to streamline the prior document and make it more manageable and concise,” the document highlighting the changes on the JCEA website reads. “We also worked to strengthen collaboration and voice of teachers at the building and district levels.”

District negotiators gave ground on the following issues to win JCEA support of a 10-month duration to the new, pared-down agreement:
• Lower class sizes
• Hiring additional librarians when a school reaches a specific size
• Delaying for a year a new way of accruing time off

Witt said he was pleased with how hard everyone worked over the past several months, and was happy with the outcome.

“This tentative agreement is not like the historic minor revisions of the existing agreement that has been incrementally modified year after year for decades in Jeffco,” Witt said. “I am optimistic for a new era in district/union relations, where the agreement is newly focused on the best interest of our students.”

News story originally posted on Complete Colorado on August 11, 2015.