DENVER – Passionate reactions erupted Wednesday to a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Educators Association (CEA union) to unravel public school reforms that were touted by Gov. John Hickenlooper in his pitch to sell a $1 billion tax hike last year.
The lawsuit was contemplated last year after about 100 teachers were cut in Denver, but was iced to avoid chilling the campaign for a massive income tax hike to fund public education – a ballot initiative nixed by statewide voters in November.
The CEA lawsuit argues that Senate Bill 10-191, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver), includes a “mutual consent” provision that results in the removal of qualified teachers if principals don’t agree to hire them.
“The same union that tried to take another billion dollars from Colorado citizens with Amendment 66, is now trying to create a protected class of substandard workers,” declared Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).
“This lawsuit should outrage every student, every parent, and every taxpayer in this state,” added Cadman. “Instead of promoting the best teachers for our kids, they are trying to protect the worst ones in our schools. This action is shameful.”
House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) said the lawsuit also undermines the bi-partisan support in the legislature for the teacher evaluations that are 50 percent based on the outcome of student assessment tests.
“With bi-partisan support, the House, Senate and Governor worked together to enact a tenure reform law that not only was a shot in the arm for great teachers and quality schools, but a national model for solid, innovative education reform,” said DelGrosso.
“The union is not only out of the mainstream of where most Colorado parents and taxpayers are on this issue, it can’t see the mainstream with a telescope,” he said.
Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) said, ”The union realizes it has lost its stranglehold on the state legislature, and is now trying to subvert positive student and teacher centered reforms through underhanded litigation.”
The CEA and supporters lauded the union lawsuit – and threw jabs at Johnston’s bill.
CEA President Kerrie Dallman said Wednesday that the “mutual consent” clause in SB 191 is being used by some school districts “to unfairly and systematically remove highly experienced and qualified teachers from the classroom.”
“Legislation should be used to ensure that every public school student has a quality teacher in the classroom,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Educators Association union. “It should not drive out great educators without the benefit of a rigorous evaluation system.”
Diane Ravitch, a blogger who criticized Douglas County School District for having “neutered the teachers union,” praised the lawsuit and described Johnston as an “ex-TFA” (Teachers Federation of America) union member gone astray.
The day Johnston’s bill passed, Ravitch recalled that he arrived late to debate education policies with her at a luncheon. Finally, she said, “young Master Michael Johnston walked in, safe from hearing anything I might say, and proceeded to give a speech praising his bill and saying it would produce great schools, great principals, and great teachers.”
SB 191 is “one of the worst bills of its kind in the nation,” concluded Ravitch.
State Sen. Nancy Todd (D-Aurora), who appeared at the CEA’s press conference Wednesday, said she’ll introduce a bill to alleviate the problem of teachers being dismissed without cause.
Johnston brushed off critics as union advocates resistant to change.
“They want to keep the old system where teachers would have a lifetime job guarantee even if no one in the district wants to hire them for an open position,” Johnston told AP.