DENVER – Douglas County School District’s current board has implemented reforms that have captured national news and inspired higher academic achievement. But, those reforms have ruffled the feathers of the teachers’ unions and several past school board members who met this week to launch a “Back to the Future” reform agenda.
The stated goal of the meeting “is to publish a list of the best practices we achieve consensus on so voters can consider them as they reflect on who to elect November 5,” according to the meeting agenda.
“We’re recommending best practices,” said Clare Leonard, who served on the school board back in the late 1980’s. “We’re not recommending changes.”
“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and attempt to reach consensus on the best practices of past boards of education in Douglas County. Best practices include those principles and expectations that guided past boards and resulted in a district considered to be the best district in the state for students, families, teachers, administrators, staff, and taxpayers,” according to the meeting agenda.
The gathering was chaired by former Colorado Lieutenant Governor Gail Schoettler, who was a member of the school board in the 1970’s and 80’s. The Democrat, who lost her gubernatorial bid in 1998 to Republican Bill Owens, was an outspoken opponent of charter schools.
An estimated three dozen past board members were invited to participate in the meeting held Tuesday at the Pikes Peak Grange in Franktown. About 10 former school board members attended, Leonard said. Of those who could not attend, a few objected to some of the recommended best practices.
Former Douglas County School Board member Dan Gerken blasted the meeting, calling it a “pro union lovefest.”
“In the last several years, while I was still a member of the board, I heard from very few former board members. That a meeting like this would occur just before an election when the meeting’s organizers have been largely silent for years tells me that this is all political theater intended to promote union candidates,” said Gerken in an e-mail to Leonard.
“How clever of you to couch all the theatrics in terms of ‘best practices’ – not so clever of you to have a left wing Democrat like Gail Schoettler chair your so-called nonpartisan meeting,” Gerken added. “I can hear it now, all the nostalgic longings for the bygone days of collaboration with the union. To which I can only say, one person’s collaboration is another’s cronyism.”
Gerken, who served on the school board from 2009 to January this year, stated he was proud of the current board’s achievements which he listed as:
“(Stopping) the scandalous and secretive practice of spending upwards of $400,000 per year in taxpayer money to pay for union employees’ salaries and benefits;
“(Ending) the practice of collecting union dues for a union that spent just $4,900 on professional development in spite of raising some $1.3 million per year in dues; and
“(Recognizing) individual performance in its compensation system and had the courage to jettison the ossified union-preferred seniority based system.”
The former board Vice President said he suspects that “many previous board members who, like me, support the current direction of DCSD will see that your gathering is not made in good faith, that its sole purpose is to achieve political outcomes favorable to the four union endorsed candidates.”
Leonard said the group will not endorse candidates or issues, such Amendment 66 – a nearly $1 billion, across-the-board statewide income tax hike.
Schoettler was a proponent of the predecessor of Amendment 66 — Proposition 103, a $3 billion tax increase over a five-year period, which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2011.
The draft of “best practices,” she said, will be condensed and slightly altered before the group sends the final version to Douglas County School Board members and media outlets. The goals include curbing the board’s executive sessions, changing the makeup of committees and setting stricter controls on the privately-funded Douglas County Educational Foundation.
The final edit, Leonard said, will combine recommendations for human resource policies with the following union-friendly goal:
“Positive, collaborative and consensus building relationships with teachers and their chosen union representatives, especially when there is disagreement.”