Guest Commentary: Union Leaders Swing and Miss in DougCo Attack

December 24, 2012

Union leadership continues to complain about the district’s fiscally conservative practices

Christmas is here. While most students in Colorado schools are on their long-awaited breaks, the disgruntled teachers union leadership in Douglas County is stepping up their smear campaign. And while they stretch the truth to attack the school board that bid them adieu, their attacks also leave behind some collateral damage. They swing and miss the target, but end up hitting others.

A new YourHub piece by the Denver Post’s Clayton Woullard shines some light on the activities of the union’s local front group “Douglas County Classrooms,” and its forceful push to resist both expanded choice for families and a more accountable, performance-based school system. Unfortunately, the union-backed group’s self-serving message conflicts with some of the facts:

[Douglas County Federation field representative Mandy Sheets] also mentioned parents and teachers in Douglas County Classrooms are concerned by the amount of time the board is spending in executive session, the increased work load of high school teachers with a new schedule that is meant to save money, she said, while the district continues to grow its general fund balance. District officials have said the balance is at levels it requires in case of emergency.

Seems they’re concerned about a board spending too much time in executive session the same way that a Mafia enforcer might be concerned about his victim spending too much time in the hospital with broken knees. Behind the scenes, DCFT actively supported the ongoing lawsuit against the Choice Scholarship program. The lawsuit has contributed significantly to the board needing to spend decision-making time behind closed doors.

Union leadership also continues to complain about the district’s fiscally conservative practices. Try explaining to taxpayers, though, why they shouldn’t be happy with a stable budget that sustains teacher raises and a consistently high bond rating. After all, DCSD has focused support on students and classrooms, cutting from the central administration annual budget 20 full-time positions and $1.3 million (20 percent) over the past five years. DCFT could be upset because the board slashed 100 percent of taxpayer funds (roughly $300,000/year) used to pay for unaccountable union officers to leave the classroom.

As for the new high school schedule Sheets grumbles about, 90 percent of students surveyed like the the change. Without sacrificing overall instructional time, the plan grants more course options and flexibility. The top reason given by the handful who don’t like the change: “Some teachers have a negative attitude.” Hmmm… I wonder why?

Sheets also gripes that a part of the developing performance pay plan, known as “world-class education targets,” provide “no clarity” and ultimately no benefit to students. But the 100 Dougco teachers who have spent weekend hours collaborating to develop these targets certainly would have to disagree. Not only students and taxpayers, but also other teachers, are left under the bus by the union’s indiscriminate attacks.

Meanwhile, a relatively high-performing district continues to shine (19 John Irwin schools of excellence) while striving to build a system of greater excellence and making sure that all students’ needs are served. The high stakes of November’s Douglas County school board elections suddenly have become even clearer.

Ben DeGrow is a senior policy analyst for the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center.  He has authored numerous issue papers and opinion pieces, and is a contributing editor for the national monthly School Reform News.  His article was originally published here.

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