DENVER — The union representing teachers in the Adams 12 School District has been quietly weighing its options, including a strike, as part of negotiations with the school board, according to a survey distributed to their membership last month.
In early April district officials called for those negotiations to be open to the public, an invitation the union leadership has so far declined.
The District Twelve Educators Association (DTEA) union sent out an “Action Alert” earlier this month to teachers blasting the school board’s latest contract offer as unacceptable.
“The district’s initial offer is an insult – there is money for salaries and benefits, but YOU CANNOT use it for step increases.” said the first bullet point in the alert.
Step increases are described on the Adams 12 website as “movement on the salary schedule for an additional year of service.”
The DTEA flier also referred to the district policy change that helped to spark the current standoff between the union and the school board – a demand that teachers contribute a larger share to their own pension plan.
The district made the change in an effort to help address budget shortfalls brought about as a result of the recession.
DTEA officials refer to that policy change as a move by the district to “unilaterally cut salaries [by] 1.5%”, even though the larger teacher contribution will benefit educators when they retire.
Teachers were also asked to complete a survey in preparation for the second day of negotiations between DTEA and the board of education on May 2nd. The union says the survey is being conducted to get a better “understanding of your bargaining priorities.”
The DTEA alert called on teachers to support the union throughout the negotiations.
“[W]e ask for your ongoing commitment to all DTEA actions. If negotiations continue to be adversarial, be ready to mobilize and organize to the greatest extent possible,” read the email alert.
That may be because not all DTEA members are supportive of potential union actions.
“It’s very uncomfortable for me as a teacher right now in this district, it seems like every other day, the union is pummeling us with information…It’s very much ‘in your face.’” said a veteran Adams 12 teacher and DTEA member. The teacher asked not to be identified out of concern that they might face retaliation from the union.
Others have expressed support for the union, pledging to work strictly “to the contract,” meaning they would work only the minimum hours set forth in the contract rather than spending the usual 40-plus hours a week teaching, preparing lessons, grading papers, meeting with parents or running after school programs.
Critics believe the Colorado Education Association (CEA), of which the DTEA is a local affiliate, may be attempting to fight a pitched battle in Adams County to dissuade other cash-strapped school districts who may be considering the option of asking teachers to share the burden of shoring up their pension obligations.
“Union leaders recognize 2013 as a critical juncture for their ability to block or weaken needed changes to K-12 education in Colorado. They have their eyes fixed on the bold transformation in Douglas County, and the responsible PERA reforms in Adams 12,” said Ben DeGrow, a Senior Education Policy Analyst for the non-partisan Independence Institute. “The longer those two school boards continue on their respective courses, the stronger the unmistakable signal that other boards can successfully challenge union power.”
There hasn’t been a full-fledged strike in Colorado since 1994, when more than 2,000 members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association went on a week-long strike.
Lesser union actions, like a 2004 “sick out” in Boulder, saw 900 of the district’s 1,700 teachers in the Boulder Valley Education Association organize to call in sick.
The Adams 12 Board of Education is scheduled to meet Wednesday, May 1. Union supporters are expected to turn out in large numbers as a show of solidarity.