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Jeffco teachers union at an impasse with district over pay

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By AJ Vicens

The union representing Jeffco Public Schools' teachers has voted to declare an impasse in negotiations with the district over pay increases.

However, both sides say they want to resolve the pay issues so the teachers have a contract and are willing to go to a state negotiator if necessary.

"The major sticking point in the negotiations is the fact that while our workload has continued to increase, the district is not willing to add a cost-of-living adjustment to the salary schedule," Jefferson County Education Association president Kerrie Dallman said in a May 19 interview. "They prefer instead to give a one-time stipend."

District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson disagrees with that characterization. Stevenson says the district was willing to go ahead with a scheduled 2.5 percent pay increase Sept. 1, but a quarter of teachers are at frozen spots in the pay schedule and wouldn't receive anything anyway.

Stevenson said the district offered an additional one-time payment of 1 percent to be paid in November.

If the state allows the district to spend $11 million in educational funds that are being held until Jan. 29, 2010, the additional 1 percent would be built in to future pay increases.

"For most of our teachers, that's around a 3.5 percent (increase)," Stevenson said. "I think it's a very creative, fair proposition. Some people don't."

Cost-of-living increases are different from yearly step and level increases, Stevenson said. Yearly step increases are given to teachers based on each year of additional service, and level increases are given to teachers when they obtain additional training or academic degrees. Step and level increases together average about 2.5 percent per year per teacher, Stevenson said.

Giving teachers a cost-of-living raise increases the base from which all steps and levels are computed, causing district compensation expenses to rise "exponentially," Stevenson said.

Stevenson told district employees in a May 14 newsletter that the scheduled pay increases plus the 1 percent payment and state-mandated increases in retirement contributions equal a 4.5 percent increase for most district employees.

"All Jeffco employees deserve to be compensated fairly for their hard work," Stevenson wrote. "But given the economic realities of today and our budget projections, we are fortunate to be able to offer a total compensation package of 4.5 percent for most of our employees. Other businesses are not as lucky and are either giving no increases or decreasing employee compensation."

Dallman takes issue with district math, saying an expected 4.9 percent increase in funding from the state should result in a bigger raise for teachers.

"It's not as though the (JCEA) is shooting for the stars here,” Dallman said. “We're fully aware we're in difficult and tough economic times in this nation and this county, and what we're asking for is not unreasonable."

Dallman wouldn't say specifically what the union is asking for, citing privacy around negotiations.

Stevenson contends the increase from the state isn't technically that large because of a variety of factors.

Dallman said JCEA members and other members of the Colorado Education Association, a statewide teachers union, were integral in keeping state funding for school districts intact in one of the roughest budget times in years.

"We worked hard to ensure that the state legislature adequately funded public schools," Dallman said. "It's an insult for the district to come back to us and say, 'We're not going to honor that.' "

"One day they went and demonstrated (at the state Capitol), and certainly their efforts are appreciated," Stevenson said in response to Dallman's comments. "But all kinds of people worked on school finance all year. I do not believe that any one group can say this was a result of (its efforts)."

Dallman said she's confident that "both sides will eventually come to an agreement they can live with." If not, she added, a mediator will resolve the dispute.

"For the sake of our teachers, I would like to resolve (this)," Stevenson said. "I think our teachers are incredible people, and I'd like them to have a sense of what their compensation will be before they leave (for summer break). But if we need to bring in a fact-finder or a mediator, that's OK, too."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.