School board details its ire at union

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Douglas County School Board President John Carson held a long question-and-answer session with district staff this week that outlined his displeasure with the teachers union.

Carson’s three greatest concerns, he said during the June 5 board meeting, are about the district’s collection of union dues, its employment of union representatives, and the union’s goodwill in working with the board.

During ongoing contract negotiations with the Douglas County Federation teachers union, the district proposes eliminating district collection of dues and severing all compensation and benefits to union representatives, among other measures.

Carson said the board’s received no response to repeated requests for an explanation of how union dues are spent.

The union collects about $1.3 million a year from its Douglas County members, or about $600 per teacher.

“If we had $600 being taken out of a teacher’s paycheck for a health plan, insurance plan or legal plan, would you be concerned if you had no idea where that money was being spent?” Carson asked the district’s chief financial officer, Bonnie Betz.

When Betz said “yes,” Carson continued: “Every single dollar of this school district is 100 percent transparent, except for those dollars.”

More than $850,000 of the dues leaves Douglas County for national entities, Carson said, leaving little for professional development. In five years, $111,000 has been dedicated to that cause, district officials said. The district also says union dues were used in the campaigns of union-endorsed candidates during the 2009 school board elections.

“The board would have no interest in these details if the union just went out and collected these dues themselves,” board member Craig Richardson said.

The district also has proposed during negotiations that it stop paying a portion of union employees’ salaries, and discontinue district benefits.

District leaders said they’ve asked the union representatives whose salaries are partially paid by the district for some accounting of their time. The union instead proposes paying the money spent on their salaries back to the district, while maintaining autonomy and district employment status.

“The final issue is this issue of goodwill,” Carson said. “I think this is actually the most important issue.”

Carson said the union attempts to undermine the district by distributing false information, most recently through door hangers that refer to a $66 million budget surplus. District officials repeatedly have said the surplus is only about $15 million, with the remainder committed to other funds or legally restricted.

Federation president Brenda Smith said the door hangers serve as talking points, and the surplus is an accurate figure revealed through an independent audit.

In May, school planners presented a $250 million list of needed capital improvements, prompting rumblings of a mill levy proposal. But Carson said voters who believe the large surplus exists won’t sympathize with a district request for funding.

“This is a shining example of how this union acts completely contrary to the interests of their teacher members,” he said.

Several teachers say they’re reluctant to sign their individual contracts by the district’s June 15 deadline without knowing the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The district repeatedly has refused to extend the current collective bargaining agreement beyond its June 30 expiration, though it has done so in years past.

Carson said during the board meeting he’s not optimistic the district will have an agreement by June 15. Scheduled negotiations continue through June 8, and one union negotiator this week suggested adding more sessions.

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