Teachers union declares impasse

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Bargaining breaks off after school district fails to give position on salaries

By Daniel Laverty

Talks between the school district and the teachers union ended abruptly Monday evening when the union declared an impasse and left the bargaining table.


“It has become clear … that this year’s bargaining process is broken and is disrespecting a 45-year tradition that has made us great,” said Stephie Rossi, bargaining chair for the Jeffco Education Association. “The JCEA team cannot meet the board’s interests if we don’t know what they are.”

It 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 Monday on union-related leave time for teachers, 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, Jeffco Public Schools’ 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 is not over but that a new negotiating method is needed.

A statement released Tuesday from school board President Ken Witt 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. 

The statement went on to say that the school board has earmarked $11.7 million for raises in the budget.

"We are committed to honoring the association agreement while maintaining a laser focus on increased academic achievement in accordance with the goals unanimously agreed by the board in December," Witt 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.

The rally ended with Rossi urging all teachers to wear blue to school Thursday to show unity and support for Jeffco’s students. Members of the media and JCEA teachers had been notified of the planned rally Monday afternoon.

“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.”

It was unknown when the parties would meet again and who might serve as a third party mediator. Monday’s stalemate apparently scuttled bargaining sessions that had been scheduled for April 15 and 28 and May 5.

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

The current contract between the district and the teachers union expires in August 2015. The two sides traditionally meet each year for interim talks, and this year’s bargaining was the first under the new school board majority elected last November.

In an earlier bargaining session, the district declined to extend the current contract beyond 2015. Jeffco teachers have not had raises in four years.