Business groups challenge CEA on potential lawsuit

Leaders of seven business groups wrote to the Colorado Education Association Friday, urging the union to “to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit” against a provision of the state’s landmark educator effectiveness and evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191.

StockA66Logo92613CEA issued a statement saying, “The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand.”

The letter is the latest development in a slowly simmering controversy over a recent decision to extend the deadline for CEA and its affiliate, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, to file a lawsuit challenging part of the law, if they choose to do so.

Those two groups, plus potential defendants the Denver school board and the State Board of Education, agreed last month to extend the filing deadline from Aug. 31 to next February 1. (EdNews was the first to report the delay; see this story.)

Since then there have been charges by Amendment 66 opponents and conservative commentators that the delay was engineered to avoid bad publicity during the campaign to pass Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 tax increase.

Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll raised that idea in a recent column, and a scathing editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette this week made the same charge under the headline “Deception key to new education tax increase.”

However, it’s hardly been a secret that the unions, particularly the DCTA, were unhappy with the mutual consent provision of the law, which requires both principals and teachers to agree to placements in a specific school. The Denver union challenged DPS’ use of mutual consent, and an arbitrator’s “advisory opinion” last year concluded the provision was unconstitutional. (Unlike other provisions of SB 10-191, which are still being rolled out, mutual consent went into effect as soon as the bill was signed.) It’s been widely assumed in education circles that a union lawsuit was possible. (Get more background in this EdNews story.)

Highlights of the letter

The business groups’ letter reads in part: “This pending lawsuit puts educator effectiveness at risk, leading you and our partners into unproductive territory that ultimately will greatly challenge our efforts to improve schools. Throwing up legal roadblocks and delaying implementation of this important statute does nothing to improve the effectiveness of our teachers, strengthen teacher and student performance, or expand the horizons of students. … Voters will decide this fall whether to fund these positive changes via Amendment 66; however, your recent actions have put a foundational piece of the reform agenda in jeopardy, and we urge you to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit.”

Only at the end of the letter do the signers refer to the speculation about lawsuit delay. “We have been pleased to work with you in the past on many education initiatives and are ready to do so again. As a first step, we ask you to waive your legal challenge over the mutual consent provisions of SB 191 and join us in a public statement to reaffirm our shared commitment to implementing the core principles of SB 191 statewide with fidelity. But, if you are not willing to do that, Coloradans deserve to know now, not next year, that you are turning to the courts to undercut positive school reform.”

What CEA said

In response, here’s the text of the CEA statement:

“The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has been trying to work collaboratively with the Denver Public Schools district to find an alternate resolution to the problem of Senate Bill 191 implementation for two years. It is difficult for those who haven’t been part of the complex and intricate discussions between DCTA and DPS to have a clear picture of the nature of our disagreement and our objective of ensuring quality, veteran teachers are not displaced from Denver classrooms.

“Since passage of SB-191, the Colorado Education Association has been focused on implementing the law in a way that lives up to its stated objective: to give public school students the best possible classroom teachers. How best to accomplish that is at the heart of the dispute between DCTA and DPS. Keeping the best teachers with demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom is in the best interest of students, and CEA has a moral and professional obligation to ensure this is every district’s priority as the educator effectiveness evaluation system is implemented across the state.

“CEA and DPS signed a tolling agreement [the delay in the filing deadline] to allow more time for conversations and discussions to take place. This means that both sides agree to commit to action in an attempt to stay out of the courts. The quickest and most productive way to bring a resolution is it to continue quality conversation between DCTA and DPS, and we look forward to mediation and the opportunity to find a collaborative solution that is best for students.

“The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand. But we will continue to have diligent and intensive discussions that hopefully lead to the collaborative outcome that ultimately benefits the children and families of Denver.”

Who signed the business groups’ letter

Signing the business groups’ letter were representatives of Colorado Concern, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, as well as two regional groups, Action 22 and Progressive 15. Also signing were co-chairs Bob Diebel and Al Timothy of Colorado Succeeds, a business group that focuses on education issues and generally supports the education changes that would be partly funded by Amendment 66.

While numerous individual executives have endorsed Amendment 66, business groups generally has remained neutral, notably the Denver Metro Chamber. A few, such as the South Metro chamber, are opposed. (See this list of individual and other endorsements on the website of Colorado Commits to Kids, the main support group.)

Business hesitancy around Amendment 66 is primarily generated by the fact that the measure would modify Colorado’s current flat income tax rate with a two-step system. The amendment would raise the individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000, and income above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. Small business owners who file taxes as individuals would pay the new rates, something that also concerns some business groups.

Read the letter here.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.