Jefferson County

School board chooses fact finding in teacher negotiation process

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Among howls and catcalling from onlookers and tension around the board table, the Jefferson County Board of Education moved to fact finding stage of negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association teachers' union on June 5.

In a 3-2 vote by board members John Newkirk, Julie Williams and board president Ken Witt, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreed to May 8 by the JCEA and district's negotiating teams was not approved, moving the process to fact finding. The understanding contained salaries for teachers and district employees.

“The contract states that if we don't complete the mediated agreement, we move to fact finding and that's where we are, and so we'll proceed with fact finding,” Witt said.

“Well, we hope to get an agreement where we're able to compensate the teachers, our effective teachers in the classrooms, and to substantially agree on the items that have been discussed and come up with a plan that best works for this district.”

The agreement was not approved after both Witt and Board Secretary Newkirk cited language disagreements and the lack of performance-based pay reductions for underperforming teachers in the document.

Following that decision, the board did approve an agreement (5-0) with the Classified School Employees Association (CSEA) — including school office staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance — which incorporated step increases for those employees.

Fact-finding will take the proposed teacher MOU to a third-party neutral source, where it will make findings and possible recommendations to the board. During the process, both parties may delve into the contract, line by line, and present evidence to the fact-finder.

According to the district's Chief Financial Officer, Lorie Gillis, this can be a lengthy process, depending upon the amount of evidence presented. A time frame is yet to be determined.

“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 in a press release. “Unfortunately, their decision to break with history leaves the future of our negotiations uncertain."

The MOU holds a large percentage of funds currently within the budget. While it's unlikely the fact finding will be completed before the district is required to adopt an annual budget, the board can set a placeholder for compensation.

Throughout the discussion, audience members were calling out, exclaiming 'Sign it' and shouting disapproval of the decision.

While the move is a step in a direction she didn't want to head, Wheat Ridge 5-8 Gifted and Talented Teacher, Lisa Lee, said she's optimistic fact finding may be a direction that will benefit Jeffco's teachers.

“I'm very disheartened at the attitude towards teachers by the board majority, and nothing can take that away. I am heartened by the fact, that it's facts. It's not emotions; it's not vitriol, or political agenda. Facts are unbiased, and the facts are in our favor.”