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District seeks to revive talks with teachers

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By Daniel Laverty

In an effort to restart contract talks, the Jeffco school board has asked the teachers union what it would take for union negotiators to return to the bargaining table.

“I think it’s in the board’s best interest to keep JCEA at the (bargaining) table,” board member Lesley Dahlkemper said at Thursday night’s meeting.

Negotiations deadlocked April 7 when the Jeffco Education Association bargaining team declared an impasse and walked out of the talks. The school board called a special meeting April 10 to discuss strategies with its bargaining team and attorneys.

If JCEA doesn’t return to the bargaining table, the two sides will enter mediation, a process not expected to take place in public.

Phone calls on Friday to the JCEA and Amy Weber, Jeffco Public Schools’ director of human resources, were not returned.

 

JCEA declares impasse

The April 7 meeting was the fourth negotiating session this year between the school district and teachers union; both groups had agreed that this year’s contract talks would be open to the public for the first time.

After a one-hour discussion on union-related leave time for teachers, JCEA bargaining chair Stephie Rossi asked district staff for the school board’s position on teacher salaries — information the JCEA had sought during the previous week’s bargaining.

Lorie Gillis, the district’s chief financial officer, said the board had yet to give specific direction regarding teacher compensation and raises.

Rossi then immediately declared an impasse.

“We are stopping the current process and moving into mediation with a third party,” she said.

The JCEA bargaining team walked out of the room and was joined by the hundreds of teachers in attendance.

“We feel that all issues are at an impasse right now,” said Lisa Elliott, JCEA executive director, adding that bargaining was not over but that a new negotiating method was needed.

School board President Ken Witt released a statement the next day and said the district is still committed to negotiations, and that the board will work with the negotiating teams to determine the next step.

“As this board was enthused to participate in the first-ever open negotiations in Jeffco, I am disappointed that the association has decided to abandon the open negotiations process for a closed impasse mediation process and hope they come back to the negotiating table,” Witt’s statement said. 

 

Teachers rally

The hundreds of teachers and JCEA supporters who walked out of the negotiations filled the parking lot of the Jeffco Education Center and staged a pre-arranged rally.

“We’re sending the board a message,” Rossi said to the crowd. “If you don’t stand up for all of Jeffco’s students, we will.”

The crowd cheered and began chanting, “Stand up for kids!” The JCEA bargaining team joined Rossi on the back of a pickup truck that had been equipped with a microphone and speakers.

“It’s an unfortunate situation this year,” said Kerrie Dallman, former JCEA president and current Colorado Education Association president. “(When I was JCEA president and) was at the bargaining table, the board’s negotiation team … had direction to negotiate. That hasn’t happened this year.”

After the rally, JCEA President Ami Prichard speculated that the April 7 bargaining session also might be the last held in public.

 

The board meets

The school board called a special meeting for last Thursday to discuss the next move. The schedule originally called for the board to enter executive session, but that motion failed when board members Jill Fellman and Dahlkemper voted against moving behind closed doors.

Dahlkemper said it appeared the JCEA left the table because of salary issues and that offering a 2 to 3 percent increase might end the impasse and keep negotiations public. The talks would likely move behind closed doors if a mediator becomes involved.

“I’d be delighted to see JCEA come back to negotiations,” Witt said. “JCEA has declared impasse … and we need to see a specific statement from JCEA.”

“We already know the answer to that question,” Dahlkemper said. She proposed giving a 2.5 percent salary increase to every teacher, which would cost the district roughly $12.5 million.

“I will not have this board arguing for the JCEA,” Witt said. “I do not want to suppose or take a position for (JCEA).”

Weber said she would reach out to the JCEA for a response to Witt’s request and anticipated an answer by April 14.

At this time, the board has yet to schedule another meeting to review the JCEA’s response.

The current contract between the district and the teachers expires in August 2015. The district’s teachers have not had a raise in four years.

 

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com.