CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Once again, Colorado’s Douglas County School District is making education news of the “man-bites-dog” variety.
Just last year, the Douglas County school board made national headlines when it established a tuition voucher program for students who wanted to leave the district to attend a private school. The legality of that program is still being sorted out by the courts.
That was a surprise, considering school boards generally fight to keep students and the state dollars that follow them.
Now, the president of the local teachers’ union has come out in support of making collective bargaining contract talks open to the public. That’s a fresh approach, considering most teacher unions typically insist on making their expensive demands behind closed doors, where reporters and taxpayers can’t hear them.
But the union folks in Douglas County see things differently.
“By letting the sunlight shine on our negotiations, parents, taxpayers and employees will benefit by seeing the open dialogue around our district’s priorities,” saidBrenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“I hope you consider this,” Smith said, according to EdNewsColorado.org.
Board member Doug Benevento agreed to provide “a positive and speedy response to that from the board,” according to the news site.
In far too many instances, contract negotiations between unions and school boards are shrouded in secrecy. Taxpayers are given “the mushroom treatment.” They are kept in the dark about what is being negotiated and how much it will cost them, while being plied with generous amounts of “organic” material.
They only get to see the final contract after the ink is dry and amendments are impossible.
State Rep. Kathleen Conti, a Republican, has presented a bill that would require all Colorado school districts to open contract talks to the public. Even though Conti’s bill is languishing in committee, the Colorado Education Associationhas come out against it.
“Opening bargaining sessions to the public could lead to harmful speculation and gossip in the community … and runs counter to the ability of districts and associations to communicate openly and honestly and to find new, innovative solutions that will ultimately benefit the education of children,” CEA spokesmanMike Wetzel told EdNewsColorado.
See what we mean by "organic" material?
Not only do teacher contracts directly affect taxpayers’ wallets, they directly affect children’s education – by determining the school calendar, the assignment of personnel, and when the school day starts and ends.
Community members have every right to know this information, while they can still have their voices heard in the process.
We congratulate the Douglas County Federation of Teachers for its leadership on this issue, and eagerly wait to see what comes next from the innovative Douglas County School District.