CASTLE ROCK — The battle over the future of Douglas County schools heated up this week, with education reform backers launching two new TV ads just days after the local AFL-CIO affiliated teachers union announced their endorsement of a slate of pro-union school board candidates.
The ads, paid for by the non-partisan Americans for Prosperity Foundation, include Douglas County residents talking about some of the bold reforms adopted by the current school board, and the importance of those reforms to the community.
One of the ads, featuring local resident Margo Knutson, highlights a new pay-for-performance framework that the school district developed in collaboration with hundreds of teachers in recent years.
The groundbreaking approach, described as “One of the first successful models of pay-for-performance,” by the U.S. Department of Education, would evaluate teachers and principals on their performance, and award larger awards to the most the most effective employees – rather than doling out raises based on seniority.
But that hasn’t prevented union-backed lawsuits against the board – a point Knutson alludes to in the ad.
“There’s a power struggle over our schools. The unions are fighting Douglas County’s plan to pay teachers based on performance,” Knutson says.
“The ACLU and other liberal groups are suing to block school choice scholarships,” Knutson continues in the ad. “And then there’s the rest of us. We believe in performance pay for teachers, and we’re proud that Douglas County is a national leader in school choice.”
The school board has faced constant attacks from pro-union groups since ending the longtime practice of using district tax dollars to pay the salaries of full-time union executives – even though those executives spent no time in the classroom.
The decision to stop subsidizing the paychecks of union bosses has sparked outrage from American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, which has been working to oust the school board ever since.
The union’s chief Randi Weingarten, who helped organize the controversial Chicago teachers strike, helped funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in union dues into the campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and personally traveled to Douglas County last year to help gin-up opposition to the board and the locally-driven reforms they have championed.
Despite the consistently high performance of students in the district– Douglas County was recently ranked by an independent analysis as the best performing large school district in the state – pro-union groups have continued to suggest that teacher morale and student achievement are in decline.
The local affiliate of Weingarten’s union, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, recently announced that they plan to “spend an undetermined amount of money” in the upcoming election contest.
Critics of the union, like AFP’s Douglas Zvonek, say they are determined to tell the real story of results and reform in Douglas County to counteract what many see as misleading attacks on the board.
“Those who’ve been bad-mouthing reform, and attacking the brave people behind it, need to know that we’re going to keep correcting the record,” added Zvonek.
“Reform really is working for Douglas County and many students and families will be hurt if the reforms are rolled back,” concluded Zvonek. “We’re just out here reminding folks that there’s a lot at stake.”
Both ads began airing on cable TV September 9, and can be viewed below.