Tension rises in negotiations with district

Jeffco School District negotiations remain uncertain

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A relationship forged over decades is falling apart.

Through federal mediation, negotiating teams from the Jefferson County School District and the Jefferson County Educators Association (JCEA) agreed on a memorandum of understanding May 8, but a later amendment raised concerns the agreement won’t be ratified.

Both sides said such a breakdown in negotiation had not occurred in recent memory.

“I’m hoping the board will go ahead and ratify the agreement, and we can move forward together,” JCEA President Ami Prichard said.

Shortly after the agreement was made, the board of education asked for a provision in the teacher compensation clause, asking that nonprobationary teachers rated ineffective or partially ineffective be ineligible for step increases, which are increases based on years of teaching experience.

Prichard said the JCEA was in favor of teacher evaluation, but recent board decisions had raised red flags among some teachers regarding the amendment’s impacts.

After speaking with its counsel, the JCEA negotiating team presented the agreement to its board without the amendment, and it was signed. The agreement was then voted on and approved by 88 percent of the association’s voting members, before being sent to the board of education on May 15.

Prior to the association vote, the district’s negotiating team sent out an memo to Jeffco teachers, stating that the initial agreement was tentative, and the JCEA leadership knew that the district might request revisions or modifications to the agreement before the Jeffco school board would approve it.

The JCEA leadership has chosen to not honor that understanding by taking a tentative agreement to ratification,” the memo signed by the district negotiation team states.

“JCEA leadership is potentially jeopardizing step increases for the vast majority of teachers who are rated effective or highly effective by asking you to ratify an agreement that will not be approved by members of the Board of Education.”

When asked, school board president Ken Witt declined to answer whether the board had directed staff to send the memo.

“I will speak to the process,” he said. “If the JCEA is to take a set of terms they know the board cannot agree to, then we go to fact finding (third-party dispute evaluation), which is a new process in this (negotiation), and then the board of education will make a decision based on those recommendations.”

The tentative agreement covered step compensation increases for teachers, the standardization of district benefits, additional compensation after the increased cost of PERA, the district’s public pension and retirement fund, and having a competitive wage for newly-hired teachers. According to the memo, compensation for probationary teachers is the only item left to be resolved by both parties.

“The district believes it is important to differentiate in terms of compensation between the vast majority of teachers who are rated effective and the small number of teachers who haven’t met that standard,” reads the memo.

The district has a compensation placeholder in its preliminary budget, increasing the amount from $11.7 million to $17 million for step increases for teachers.

“My position is that performance needs to be part of compensation,” Witt said. “I think we need to give raises to our effective teachers, and have a performance-based compensation plan in place.”

In early April, the JCEA negotiating team declared an impasse, noting its concerns were not being met during open negotiations. The two sides began mediation, resulting in the tentative memorandum of understanding agreement. With budget deadlines at hand, the two sides must settle on a version of the agreement or move on to fact finding.

“With a new superintendent coming on, the end of the year, and all the things happening, I think it would be best to put it (mediation) to rest and move forward,” Prichard said. “I think the agreement we put together is very much in line with what the community expressed and what they want to see.”