6.22.15 Late June Jeffco Teacher Negotiations Update

I can no longer tolerate the actions/policies of this school board.  I have accepted a job teaching at Monarch High School.

– Chuck Stephen, former Lakewood HS band & orchestra teacher

From the beginning of negotiations with the district, our Teacher Association, JCEA, has been seeking stability and certainty.  The best way to have a highly qualified teacher in a classroom is to have a career path for teachers that encourages them to develop their skills, live in their communities in which they teach, and impact the “whole child.”  This includes not just teaching core subjects, but also electives, clubs, sports, and more.  To that end, the association has been negotiating in good faith since March with designated district staff.  Little progress had been made until recently due to uncertainty over budgets. Now that that has been settled (through another 3-2 vote by our WNW triad of doom), here are some salient points:

  • Teachers with less than or 6 years of experience will receive a pay bump so that their salaries are in line with a new salary schedule for new hires that increases starting pay to $38K and increases 2% a year. Details can be found here.
  • Master’s degrees previously earned after 2012, but not compensated for will be caught up.
  • Hard to fill positions will get some additional money to aid hiring.
  • All other employees will see an approximately 1% increase, depending on their performance rating.

This plan is ONLY in place for the 2015-2016 school year, and there is no agreement on anything else going forward.  As for the certainty that the association is seeking, there is still none.

Now that negotiations are down to four scheduled days (June 29-July 2), it is looking increasingly likely that no agreement will be reached unless more days are added to negotiations.  Many of the open items are the ones that impact whether teachers have certainty in their future career options in Jeffco, such as:

  • District-proposed contract expiration of June 30, 2016, an echo of DougCo’s plan to crush their association.
  • No salary schedule or compensation plan beyond the 2015-16 school year.
  • No agreed-upon plan regarding how school principals will decide about displacement if staffing needs to change.
  • No plan for the use of buildings by the association, or even for the role of a JCEA president.
  • Completely open-ended questions on education of the “whole child,” electives, counselors, librarians, etc.
  • Class sizes (which, of course is a big budget driver)

Chalkbeat has posted many of the documents being negotiated, with “red line” versions available too (scroll past the first part of the article to view them).

Given that the board’s plan was to negotiate from a blank sheet of paper, they have done a good job of making clear their priorities. Their only priority seemingly was, up to a week ago, to get their new hire salary schedule approved.  Now that they have gotten what they wanted, it is clear that any other contract terms are going to be hard-fought for the association.

If we want teachers to not quit the district (more 600 last year, and more than 700 already this year), we need a contract that gives them reasons to stay, with reasons including everything from salary to professional development to respect for what they do for the community.  It is in the interest of the community to have happy teachers because they’re working environment is the student’s learning environment.  The association has repeatedly made clear their desire for a contract is NOT to protect bad teachers.  That is a red herring that has NO basis in facts on the ground.  Watch the negotiations if you have time, so you can see for yourself.


 

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

6.10.15 – We need you at Thursday’s BOE meeting

The June 11 Jeffco School Board meeting is the final budget hearing for the 2015/16 budget. We need you there. Why? To make sure the board keeps its priorities straight.

Some of the main issues this year?

1. We need to finance new schools in the west Lakewood and northwest Arvada area. WNW has consistently refused to approve Certificates of Participation, despite the recommendations of district staff and McMinimee himself.

Julie Williams wants the district to build a modular school in the NW Arvada area, despite McMinimee’s point that a similar school in Douglas County, was cheaper because it was built during the recession when building costs were down and which, notably, has needed considerable repairs during that time. John Newkirk thinks the district can convince the developers to enter a new era of partnership in which they also donate money or other services to help build a school. (McMinimee’s response [slightly paraphrased]: “In my experience, the developers see their contribution as the land they already donated to the district.”) Ken Witt is hostile to the idea of debt, as is Newkirk, who likened debt to a fire extinguisher behind glass that says “break in case of emergency.” (That comment reveals so much privilege and so little experience of the real lives of the Jeffco taxpayers, doesn’t it? One might also suspect that they were big supporters of 2010’s Amendment 61 — one of the “bad 3,” all of which were voted down 2-1 by Colorado voters.)

The BOE voted to allocate $15 million of unallocated dollars for a new school, but as we’ve pointed out, $15 million won’t build a $25 million school (the district’s estimate). Where’s the other $10 million coming from? Who knows!

What they should do: approve the COPs and free up that $15 million for compensation, reserves, and classrooms. Their priorities are our children, not their high-handed ideals about how all debt is bad and new schools can just be built by cutting the budget.

2. Put more money into facilities and reserves. Instead, thanks to the $15 million that will only build part of a school, we’re putting less into reserves. It’s something, but its insufficient. Remember, we pulled heavily from reserves when the budget cuts hit. We need to build them up before the next round, which is forecast for 2017 or so. Reserve funds also affect our credit rating, which in turn gives us better interest rates on existing bonds and for any bonds the district might pursue in the future.

Facilities maintenance has also been neglected for a number of years. Some of the $15 million should be allocated back to facilities where it belongs.

3. Teacher compensation is without a doubt our number one priority. The district has made some increases available, though a large portion is eaten up by PERA and ACA increases. Another portion was allocated to increasing compensation for new hires and hard-to-fill positions like speech pathologists. Unfortunately, despite the district’s emphasis that more money would need to be available in order to equalize salaries for veteran teachers, WNW’s response has been “maybe next year.” A small increase of 1 percent is available as JCEA and the district continuing negotiating, but that amount isn’t likely to be distributed evenly (see: performance pay) and isn’t nearly enough to equalize salaries with the newcomers.

Yes, you read that right: salaries for new hires with the same years of experience and same education would be higher than the salaries of our veteran teachers who agreed to the pay freeze during the rejection and have stuck with us while we all waited for the economy to improve.

At the May 26 meeting — the first budget hearing — they had a chance to change that. They didn’t. Newkirk said he’d like to, but maybe next year because the budget money has already been allocated (see #1, above).

The board majority doesn’t care about retaining our excellent Jeffco teachers.

Do you?

If so, it’s time to speak up. Be there: June 11, 6:30 pm. (Come at 5:30 if you’d like to hear about the strategic plan and Acuity results during the study session.) You can sign up to comment on the agenda here or for the budget hearing here. Have a comment about a topic not on the agenda? Click here to sign up for public comment part 2.

Here’s a basic summary of the budget changes to-date:

  • a proposed 1% compensation increase
  • an additional staff-recommended $1.152M compensation increase for targeted employees (principals, assistant principals, hard-to-fill teacher positions and master’s degree recognition for teachers),
  • a $763k substitute teacher pay increase
  • a $2.014M increase in student-based budget (SBB) funding for neighborhoods schools
  • $3M transfer to reserve
  • $186k increase for charter school mill levy override equalization

There’s plenty more going on. For those events, we’ll link you to the posts from our friends at Support Jeffco Kids for news about a new marketing and communications hire (sneak peak: she’s been working for the Independence Institute and loves those vouchers!), Communication Chief Lisa Pinto’s resigntation, last weekend’s rally in Jeffco, and more.

Can’t make it to the meeting? Please write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us and tell them what you think.

The meeting will be streamed live (we hope) at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

5.22.2015 Clear your Tuesday calendar

We know that many of you, like us, are deep in the glut of end-of-school concerts and activities, but things are heating up just in time for Tuesday’s board meeting. Here’s a brief summary of what’s been going on the last couple of weeks.

May 7 – The BOE majority votes to move $15 million from the budget “underspend” (dollars that aren’t already allocated) all for a new school in the NW Arvada area. The problem? There are many. Among them: $15 million is still $10 million short of the amount the district estimated for a K-8 school in the area. In addition, the vote puts less into district reserves than originally planned, and crushes all other options for those dollars. District staff had recommended the $13.5 million be distributed to teacher compensation, students, facilities and reserves. For more details about that discussion, check out the Jeffco Schools Examiner story.

Witt also targeted a high school student for the “crime” of clicking the favorite button on a tweet that came from the parody @notlisapinto Twitter account. During the meeting, which went way into the wee hours of May 8, he said he would not meet with Jeffco Students for Change because he claimed that their leader had favorited a Facebook post that contained a racial epithet aimed at a Jeffco staffer. Well, as it turns out, (1) it was Twitter, not Facebook, (2) there were no racial epithets, and (3) it’s a violation of board policy and probably a number of other laws to put the full name of a Jeffco student up on the screen in full view of the board room during the board meeting.

Angry? Us too, though we also wonder whether it was meant to be a distraction for what came next.

May 12 – The district’s new compensation plan was put on hold by a Jeffco judge, who ruled that the district may not pay new hires under that plan–at least if they were hired after May 1. It’s unclear what will happen to those hired between the decision and the May 1 date. For more details, check out Chalkbeat’s fine article.

May 18 – Jeffco refuses to host a bill signing for Governor John Hickenlooper at Lakewood High School, claiming that it would be too inconvenient with students taking finals and would create a security staff shortage (or something along those lines). So, hosting Katy Perry last year (an event early in the morning that the governor also attended, by the way) isn’t a problem, but a bill signing is. Please. We have amazing security experts in Jeffco. They would handle it fine–if only they’d been given the opportunity.

May 20 – Contract negotiations with JCEA took a turn, after the district realized it needs some plan to pay those new hires. Again, check out Chalkbeat for the details.

May 21 – Jeffco’s talks with JCEA stall. We’re sure you’re shocked. Not surprisingly, the district continues to maintain the position that they want to remain competitive for new hires, never mind the salary gap and the fact that our veteran teachers are not being recognized in any way for sticking with the district through the years of pay freezes. The JCEA Twitter feed is one among many that gives a feel for Thursday’s conversation, but you can also watch the video feed here or read the Chalkbeat article.

District officials blame the budget–and this is where your help is needed. The first hearing for the budget is this Tuesday, May 26 (note the date change!). It’s time to help the school board remember what its priorities should be: compensating our teachers fairly and focusing on the classroom. Instead, they’re claiming the budget is too small to give much if anything to veteran teachers, but that apparently isn’t stopping them from awarding a $5,236 raise to Chief Communication Officer Lisa Pinto.

Wait, you say? How is she getting a raise when she clearly has not proven to be a highly effective or even effective employee? Where’s the data that her position has improved student achievement–which is Witt’s usual rallying cry? Instead, she’s increased the amount of negative press that Jeffco has, including the May 19 Denver Post editorial by the criticizing the district’s refusal to allow the bill signing. Pinto didn’t make that call, but her response to the governor’s office was far from professional (as is any communication that begins with the phrase “for your information”). She is not effective and by Witt’s own rules, does not deserve a raise until she becomes effective. We’re still waiting.

If you don’t like what’s going on, it’s time to speak up. Sign up for public comment here (and if you do, plan for public commented to be shortened to 1 minute for individuals). Can’t make it to the meeting? Write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and mark off June 11, which is the date of the second budget hearing.

Finally we’re sorry to report that Lesley Dahlkemper will not run for her seat again this November. She made that announcement on her Facebook page on May 3. But all is not lost, as Jeffco parent Amanda Stevens will run for that seat. Amanda has been a strong voice for our students at board meetings, and we hope you will like her Facebook page and support her in every way possible through the coming months.

Keep fighting, Jeffco!

We cannot give up now.


 

4.2.15 BOE meeting preview

writers_forum

Don’t miss these exciting discussions at the BOE meeting on Thursday April 2nd.

Strategic Compensation – This is a report back to the board about how strategic compensation, which went to 20 trial schools as part of a special grant program, have performed.  Does extra money make a difference for student performance, or teacher performance?  Find out, at least as regards these schools.  By the way, this grant, has NO relevance to compensation negotiations because the amount of money needed to roll this out to all schools simply does not exist.  $39M over 5 years to 20 schools means almost $60M per year across our 150 schools, per year.  On the positive side, here are the take away findings from the report.

Research findings from 2014 analysis found:

– Higher levels of implementation of quality practices were associated with higher levels of student growth.

– High-implementing schools outperformed low-implementing schools:

• in reading by 1 percent

• in writing by 5 percent

• in mathematics by 15 percent

The Consent Agenda is long, and covers many, many contracts being awarded from behind the scenes computer support, to security and safety.  This author made no attempt to read them all, but you can though here.

Budget Survey Results – The biggest item of the night that is completely relevant for all citizens of Jeffco is the outcomes of the budget surveys and public meetings.  Top priorities for one time money was Facilities/Capital and Reserves.  For ongoing money it was Compensation Increases and Facilities/Capital.  It is worth noting that the community really started getting outraged in 2014 when a similar survey was ignored, and the board pushed for its Charter Funding Equalization.  Will they listen this time?

The main outcome of the survey questions for priorities are:

Question #1: Operating Needs – Top 3

Competitive employee compensation (58 percent)

Targeted focus on improving early literacy (39 percent)

Increase staff (37 percent)

Question #2: Capital Needs

Maintenance of existing facilities (59 percent)

Question #3: Percentage of Funding

50/50 split between operating and capital (40 percent)

Question #4: High Growth

Recommend redrawing boundaries (35 percent)

Of course there are many, many other questions that were asked, and answered in this presentation.  Hear them firsthand at the board meeting, or read more here.

Budget requests from staff are also out.  With regards to compensation, there are some modest increases,  such as a proposal of a 1% increase for most employees.  The pool of money to negotiate increases is quite small, and charter schools are getting a very small increase of almost 0.1%.  Some highlights are here:

  • PERA increase – Supplemental Amortization Equalization Disbursement (SAED) inc .50% $ 2,025,000
  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) additional benefits $ 3,000,000
  • 1% Compensation increase $ 5,200,000
  • Compensation increase for targeted employees $ 1,152,000
  • Substitute teacher pay changes $ 763,000
  • Subtotal employee compensation package increase $ 12,140,000

Or, read the whole presentation, or better yet, come to the board meeting! Or attempt to watch the the live stream, assuming it doesn’t freeze, lose the sound or otherwise malfunction as has happened to several of our viewers. The study session begins at 5:30 and the regular board meeting at 6:30.

On the Discussion Agenda are four items that may be of interest to our readers.  They include:

  • Legislative update
  • Outdoor Lab
  • Boundary modification for Stober and Vivian Elementary
  • Declaration of Surplus Property on Green Mountain

Click this link to found out more.

As always, keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

3.29.15 Teacher Licensure Matters

Your Childs Education

A “Highly Effective Educator” in every classroom. That is the term that JeffCo Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association use to specify the kind of teacher they want in every classroom in JeffCo. But what that means seems to be up for debate, and a few more questions were raised when the board majority heard an explanation of teacher licensure after adding the topic as an agenda item for the Feb. 19 study session.

First of all, teacher licensure is a state function, not a county function. The state sets requirements, manages the applications, and the renewals. What a person needs to be licensed for a given position is set at the state level and not by the county (or district). The requirements vary by position. Most teaching positions require only a bachelors degree, in the content area of interest, but then things get complicated. A degree in education or “alternative licensure” paths are both allowed. Some state colleges and universities offer a second bachelors degree in education, for example, and a person with a BA in education can count that toward their license. Teachers who follow that path obtain the “800 contact hours,” spend time in a classroom, and learn the basic ropes. Details of such a program at the University of Colorado Boulder are found here.

Similar situations exist for alternative licensure. One slight but perhaps important distinction is that you can get endorsement in only one area for alternative licensure. So, for example, a person could not get licensed to teach both math and science. This may make hiring of teachers with alternative licensure less flexible.

With the new Board Majority, perhaps the biggest potential pitfall around licensing is the additional funding they are sending to charter schools. Charter schools can hire teachers based on their own criteria and may not even require a teacher to hold a license in Colorado. All they have to do is request a waiver from CDE, and requesting a licensure waiver is considered a “standard waiver.” Here is an example from a recent application. All proposed Jeffco charter schools have to apply to the state, and all ask for these waivers as a matter of course. Mountain Phoenix, an existing charter school, has done so. This equals more Jeffco funding potentially going to more teachers who are not licensed. But what about those “highly qualified” teachers?

To be declared as “highly qualified” in Colorado is also a state level distinction, but it is dictated by “No Child Left Behind” and other Federal guidelines. You can see some of the gory details here. To be declared “highly qualified” one needs to:

  • hold a bachelor degree or higher
  • maintain a teaching license
  • demonstrate mastery in their content area

In 2012-2013, 99.49% of classrooms in Colorado had a highly qualified teacher according to these criteria.

Now “highly qualified”, as a legal term is defined, but “highly effective” is where there is more nuance. This is part of Senate Bill 191. If you want a good bedtime read, here is a link to the final SB 191 rules.

It is interesting to crawl through this document, however, because it is completely silent on the difference between effective and highly effective. Furthermore, Jeffco’s pay plan is predicated on a pay bump for highly effective teachers relative to effective teachers. The district will literally bankrupt itself if it meets its goal of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom. It may be an admirable goal, but, if there is pay for performance, then it is an unviable approach.

A different approach, and one supported by JCEA and district staff (though maybe not by Mr. Witt) is to pay for advanced degrees. Most subject areas do not require a master’s degree (or higher) to teach or be in a given position but other jobs require an advanced degree. Speech pathologists and social workers require a master’s degree in order to practice. In addition, any high school teacher who teaches a concurrent enrollment class (in which students receive both high school and college credit), must have a master’s degree.

The district staff presented a plan at the March 5 meeting that included a bump in base salary for master’s degrees. Jeffco was compared to other local districts that do compensate master’s degrees. For Jeffco to remain competitive and be able to hire the best, most qualified candidates, it was suggested that teachers with master’s degrees receive more pay. There is data that suggests this practice improves student performance at the high school level and for minorities, and data that refutes this — sometimes in the same report.

So in summary, while teacher licensure, a state function helps guarantee that each child has a highly qualified teacher, and SB-191 purports to work toward each classroom having a highly effective teacher, the devil truly is in the details. If every teacher was rated highly effective, then the district could not afford it. A population as large as Jeffco’s teacher population guarantees a distribution of performance. The district should hire the best, nurture them, work with them to have a quality workplace, and pay them a salary commensurate with their skill and effectiveness.

Keep watching, keep fighting, JeffCo!