Negotiations back on in Dougco

Updated 4:30 p.m. Tuesday – Douglas County School District and teachers union officials have agreed to return to the bargaining table Thursday, days before their collective bargaining agreement is set to expire June 30.

The session is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. at the district’s administrative headquarters, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. This year, negotiations are open to the public.

District spokesman Randy Barber said union officials Tuesday morning requested additional negotiations sessions. District officials responded in the afternoon, asking that three topics head the agenda – exclusivity of the union, or the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, in representing teachers; compensation; and communications with members of the public.

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County federation, sent a message Tuesday to members – about 70 percent of all Dougco teachers – explaining that she had again requested more negotiating time.

She also said that the federation is continuing its request for the state Department of Employment and Labor to intervene. Read the message to teachers.

Updated 3:30 p.m. Monday – The Douglas County School District has replied to Brenda Smith, head of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, by declaring “We are both disappointed and confused by your letter, but we want you to understand that we remain open to further negotiations if you are interested.” Read the reply.

Original Friday story begins here:

CASTLE ROCK – Douglas County’s school board and its teachers union have a week to finalize a collective bargaining agreement or become the largest school district in Colorado operating without one.

Douglas County teachers at one of the open bargaining sessions in May. Their blue t-shirts read, “I make a difference every day.”

The latest exchanges between district and union leaders doesn’t appear to bode well for a negotiated contract by June 30, with both sides declaring the other is refusing to continue productive dialogue.

Leaders of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers this week asked the state Department of Labor and Employment to intervene in the standoff. Friday, spokesman Bill Thoennes said the department was gathering information and had yet to make a decision on the request. He said there’s no deadline for that decision.

Dougco school board member Dan Gerken issued a statement Thursday saying the board was “disappointed” that “instead of continuing negotiations,” the union sought the state’s intervention.

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“We strongly believe the issue of the Douglas County School District budget is one of local control,” Gerken said, adding, “To date, we have invested over 100 hours at the negotiating table … the union has ignored invitations to schedule more time.”

Brenda Smith, president of the Dougco federation, said she strongly disagrees with the idea that the union has backed away from the bargaining table. In a letter sent Thursday to teachers, Smith wrote that union negotiators made “significant” compromises in their quest for a collective bargaining agreement.

“Each time we made progress in negotiations, the Douglas County school board moved the goal posts,” she said.

“Unfortunately,” she also wrote, “the new leadership of the district has made it clear they no longer have any intention of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the organization to which more than 70 percent of its teachers belong.”

The stall comes during the first open contract negotiations between the district and the union in 40 years. The first open session was held April 11, followed by public meetings in May and June, with a final session on June 8. No additional talks are scheduled, though the district’s lead negotiator, Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee, has told union leaders he can be available next week.

Pay is a point of contention, with the two sides separated by 1 percent. The district offered a 1 percent raise plus a 1 percent retention bonus for all teachers willing to sign new contracts by June 15. They also want to add a day to the contract.

The union proposal is for a 2 percent raise plus the 1 percent bonus for returning teachers and no additional day. Union leaders also weren’t happy about, but agreed to, a district plan to phase out other teacher compensation pieces – such as raises earned for additional education – to fund the district’s pay offer.

But other points of dispute have generated more heat than the pay issue. For example, the district no longer wants to collect union dues from teacher paychecks – something it’s been paid by the union to do for many years.

And the district wants to change contract language that describes the union as “the exclusive” bargaining agent for teachers. Instead, the federation, a chapter of the national American Federation of Teachers, would simply be “a” bargaining agent.

“To be clear, we are asking for choice for our teachers … you are asking for a monopoly,” McMinimee wrote to Smith on June 12.

Wrong, Smith responded Thursday.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” she wrote. “It is order rather than chaos. It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.

“Without it, under current Colorado labor laws, the employer would be free to discriminate among employees to divide and conquer them … We will not agree to it.”

At 63,000 students, Dougco is the state’s third-largest school district. It is also the only large district represented by the AFT. Most districts in Colorado, including Jefferson County, Denver, Cherry Creek and Adams 12-Five Star, are represented by chapters of the National Education Association.

It’s unclear what impact the lack of a collective bargaining agreement might have in Dougco. As of last Friday, the June 15 deadline by which the district required teachers to return individual contracts and receive a 1 percent retention bonus, only 51 of the district’s 2,979 teachers had not signed on to return for another year.

Those individual contracts don’t specify compensation for 2012-13, simply guaranteeing the teacher will not be paid less and leaving open the possibility negotiations will continue, said district spokesman Randy Barber.

If no collective bargaining agreement is reached before students return in the fall, “The majority of teacher have signed contracts and we expect school will continue as usual,” Barber said.

Dougco has yet to reply to the union’s request for state intervention. Such a request from a teachers’ union is unusual but not unprecedented. In 2008, the Denver teachers association asked Don Mares, then executive director of the labor and employment department, to intervene in a contract dispute with former DPS Superintendent and now U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.

Mares declined.

“While it is clear that disagreement exists between the parties, at this point I do not believe that the dispute affects the public interest,” Mares said.

Kerrie Dallman, recently elected president of the Colorado Education Association after serving as head of the Jefferson County teachers’ union, said, in general, working without a collective bargaining agreement means teachers would be working solely under district and board policy.

“Both can be changed unilaterally,” Dallman said, although she noted district leaders might have to hold a public reading or two of the new policy before voting to implement the change.

For example, “the board and district would not be contractually obligated to discuss a proposed decrease or increase in pay with the employees or their representatives,” she said. The same goes for the length of the school day or the school year.

“The teachers’ voices can be totally left out of any discussion on curriculum, teacher accountability and performance,” Dallman said, adding, “It is unfortunate that the Douglas County school board is seeking to silence the voices of their highly trained and experienced professionals.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”