Douglas County opens teachers union talks to public

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The Douglas County school board has agreed to open its teachers union negotiations to the public.

The first open talks between the board and the Douglas County Federation of Teachers are set for 9 a.m. April 11 in Castle Rock.

Board President John Carson said the decision “is very consistent with our belief in financial transparency.

“These are taxpayer dollars and the public has a right to know how they are spent.”

The idea sprang from a group of parents concerned about the building tension and rumors surrounding the negotiations. Karen Piper, founder of the Parent Led Reform group, broached the subject to the board earlier this year. A Douglas County Federation teachers union representative later made the same request.

Piper hopes the public meetings will allay any misconceptions surrounding current contract negotiations. Although reports released March 19 show a better-than-expected jump in state revenue, the school board predicts funding cuts still will lead to some additional teacher layoffs.

“Surely the truth is easier to handle than all of these rumors,” Piper said. “We all have the same intention of looking out for the best interests of our children, our teachers and our community. We’re going through tough times. Let’s go through them together.”

Even before the board’s unanimous vote, district spokesman Randy Barber said board members were concerned that some of the discussion during closed-door contract negotiations had “floated out.”

“There was some concern that certain parties weren’t operating in good faith,” he said.

Federation president Brenda Smith said Barber’s comment is baffling.

“While I am not sure why Mr. Barber has made this claim, we do believe the public deserves to know why the board continues to cut millions of dollars from Douglas County classrooms when they have a $66 million budget surplus,” she said.

Barber said the board hopes open meetings will nudge the negotiations forward.

Despite predicted layoffs, the district has taken action to try to minimize them, Barber said.

“To avoid more cuts, teachers are asked to teach more,” he said.

Assigning teachers more classes helps the district reduce class sizes and offer electives that might otherwise be slashed, he said.

“The largest single expense of our district is personnel, and the benefits they receive,” Barber said.

The board’s open meeting policy is effective only through the conclusion of the current negotiations, but members agreed it likely will be a permanent policy.

“It’s the first step in building trust,” Piper said. “We just feel like we have honored our community and the teachers with this decision.”

The Douglas County board’s decision puts it a step ahead of the state. The House this week gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require school district collective bargaining sessions to be open to the public.