DENVER – In what some have characterized as Colorado’s own version of last year’s high-profile Chicago teachers’ union dispute, education reform advocates and allies of the AFL-CIO are already slugging it out in a heated campaign over the future of Douglas County schools.
For the second time in two weeks, supporters of the highly-ranked school district responded to union criticism, this time hitting back against a flyer accusing the Douglas County School Board of “lowering graduation requirements and decreasing instructional time in the classroom.”
That hit piece drew a response from State Senator Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch).
“The AFL-CIO coalition is back at it. Protests, bogus flyers attacking our school leaders – it’s like Jimmy Hoffa was born again and moved here to Highlands Ranch,” said Harvey in a pre-recorded message to Douglas County residents.
Harvey also pointed to what he suggested is the real driving force behind the union’s campaign efforts.
“All you have to do is just follow the money,” Harvey said. “Last year the Douglas County School Board announced it would no longer spend taxpayer dollars that should be spent in the classroom to pay the salaries of union organizers – and now the AFL-CIO is trying to bully our superintendent and school board into giving them $1.2 million for union salaries once again.”
Harvey was referring to the school board’s decision in last year to stop paying the salaries of several union officials. Between 2007 and 2010, union officials collected some $1.2 million in school district funds despite spending no time in the classroom.
The lawmaker went on to characterize the claims in the union flyer as “dishonest.”
It’s not the first time that Harvey has tangled with union leaders over education reform in Douglas County. In October, Harvey sent a letter to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who was visiting Colorado union operatives in the wake of the Chicago teachers’
At the time, Harvey warned Weingarten not to inject national union politics into Douglas County education.
“This is Colorado,” Harvey wrote, “and while you of course are free to speak your mind, our community is not interested in union bullying, strikes, ham-handed petitions or any of the other disingenuous tactics you embraced in Chicago.”
The most recent union flyer is similar to another pro-union walk piece produced earlier this month that suggested the school district had lost its accreditation.
That claim was disputed by supporters of the board, who cited documentation showing that Douglas County School District has maintained their “Accredited” rating for the past three years.
Reform backers say that the district’s moves are improving academic achievement in Douglas County, and point to a number of indicators as proof, including DougCo’s on-time high school graduation rate, which increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 87.4 percent in 2012, and a dropout rate that has decreased over the same period.
Harvey’s comments represent a trend in recent weeks, with backers of the school board pushing back harder against the attacks of the AFL-CIO led coalition.
Last week, a new ally emerged for the board in the Douglas County Education Alliance, which released an ad to kick off a social media campaign focused on combating the unions’ attacks.
With four of the seven seats on the board up for election in November of this year, the already heated campaign is likely only to grow more contentious.
Audio of Harvey’s message is embedded below.