Jeffco union rejects contract, declares impasse

Staff Reports
Posted 5/21/09

Contract negotiations between Jeffco Public Schools and its teachers union stalemated Thursday, May 14 after the union’s board voted to reject the …

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Jeffco union rejects contract, declares impasse

Posted

Contract negotiations between Jeffco Public Schools and its teachers union stalemated Thursday, May 14 after the union’s board voted to reject the district’s most recent pay proposal.

Jefferson County Board of Education proposed a package giving most employees a 4.5 percent pay increase for 2009-2010 school year, which includes increases based on education level and teaching experience, a nearly 1 percent bump in the district’s PERA contribution level and a “stipend” payment equal to 1 percent of salary paid in November 2009.

The stipend would be added to base pay moving forward should an additional $11 million in state funds come through in January 2010.

The Jefferson County Education Association, the union representing most teachers, rejected the plan.

“I am saddened that JCEA doesn’t support what we consider a fair and reasonable money offer in these difficult economic times,” said Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson in a statement.

According to a flier distributed by JCEA to members, the union wants more and claims the district can afford it. The union contends that in 2006, the district projected a reserve of $103 million for June 2009. The current reserve, according to district records, stands at $160 million. The union is calling the $57 million difference an “unexpected” surplus and says that money is “part of the overall JPS financial picture and should be the subject of negotiations.”

“They have adequate ability to pay reasonable and fair salaries to employees and to not do that is just unbelievable,” said JCEA spokesman Dexter Meyer.

Stevenson disagrees. In an e-mail sent to employees May 14, she said the school district is relying on these reserves to avoid budget cuts, which saves jobs in the long run. “Yes, we do have $160 million in reserves — think of it as a savings account,” she wrote. “Just like your savings, it’s there when you have an unexpected emergency like a health crisis. Our crisis began with the loss of the mill levy election and became worse with the economic downturn. If we didn’t have our reserves to fall back on, our budget cuts would have been much deeper for next year — $29 million instead of $12 million. Those deeper cuts would have meant more jobs lost.”

Meyers called the district’s position “absurd,” and said district leaders are using “fear tactics” to bolster their position.

“There is no guarantee that economic recovery is eminent,” said Ben DeGrow, policy analyst for the Independence Institute, who first broke the story on his blog.

“Digging into the district’s reserves for larger payouts might put them in a situation where they might have to do something more drastic in the future, like layoffs or salary freezes,” he said.

The union is also arguing that because this year’s School Finance Act was fully funded under Amendment 23, a state constitutional amendment mandates education spending rise by at least inflation plus 1 percent, the district saw $17 million added to its 2009-10 budget. The union wants to see this money spent on employee raises.

“Teachers — not administrators or school board members — actively fought for that extra SFA money, and they deserve to see at least part of it in their pay checks!” the flier says.

According to JCEA’s flier, the union wants a 4 percent cost of living adjustment in addition to the step and level increases, for a total increase in compensation spending of $28.4 million. The difference between the 1 percent COLA being offered by the district and the 4 percent COLA being asked for by the unions is about $15 million, about equal to what the district expects to receive in federal stimulus money.

“It would not be wise to use the stimulus money for salary increases because that is only one-time money,” DeGrow added. “President Obama has touted reform, so it would be better to see this money used to actually push reforms, like performance pay.”

Meyers said an impasse does not mean a strike.

“Teachers have many tools in their collective action bag short of a strike,” he said.

One such tool, says Meyers, includes teachers working to the letter of the contract.

“Our teachers put in an average of about 60 hours a week,” he said. “Our contract pays them 40 hours a week.”

Following the declaration of an impasse, the terms of the existing Jeffco-JCEA bargaining contract specify that both sides must agree to a list of five qualified mediators. A neutral third party will select one among them to guide negotiations, but no official timetable is set for when the process might occur. Pay and contract discussions are customarily concluded by the end of August. Should the parties be unable to reach a mutually-agreeable pay schedule, the district school board may ratify its position without union approval.

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