House Bill Would Protect Unions, Open School Boards to Lawsuits

March 7, 2014
Opponents of a union-backed bill say it would have a chilling effect on school boards.

Opponents of a union-backed bill say it would have a chilling effect on school boards.

DENVER – A union-endorsed bill would force school boards to record all private conversations during closed executive sessions including personnel issues, attorney-client protected conversations, and property sales.

School boards would also be required to publish a list of all topics discussed, which opponents say would allow disgruntled individuals and groups to file lawsuits challenging whether the discussions are protected. A judge’s ruling could later make those recordings public.

“There are politics behind this bill,” said Larry Dean Valente, vice president of the Adams County School District 50 Board. “This is a legislative solution to a political battle and that is unfortunate.”

Under current state law, the executive session privilege protects confidential legal consultations and discussions about personnel issues and property sales that are discussed in executive decisions.

Democrats Rep. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster and Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton say their measure, House Bill 1110, would ensure school boards are transparent in all of their actions.

“This is not a bill that is targeted to a particular school board. I want to make that perfectly clear,” said Peniston. “Most of our school boards in this state do a solid job of making sure that what they do in executive session is appropriate and law abiding.”

Opponents say the bill was concocted by the teachers unions whose candidates lost school board seats to reformers last November in Douglas and Jefferson counties.

“There are entrenched interests who do not want reform — they do not want to reform education in the state of Colorado,” said Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson). “They are losing at the ballot box and they are using other tactics to stop” reformers.

Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) said that was evidenced by the bill’s supporters who testified before the House Education Committee last month and who also spoke this week to the Senate Judicial Committee.

“It almost appears as though this bill is an attempt by some to litigate the elections from last November,” said McNulty. “That is not fair and it is not right.”

Supporters of the bill include the Colorado Educators Association and individuals who have opposed education reforms in Douglas and Jefferson counties, such as Cindra Barnard, who sued the Douglas County School Board’s approval of vouchers for private and home schooling.

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Shawna Fritzler, the Jefferson County PTA vice president who wrote of “cleaning my guns tonight” in response to a tweet from Jeffco PTA President Michelle Patterson who was criticizing school board reform member Julie Williams. “Will you teach me to shoot? ;)” tweeted Patterson to Fritzler, according to Watchdog Wire.

Republican lawmakers argue the measure would have a chilling effect on confidential attorney-client consultations. It would also discriminates against school boards because it excludes other public bodies, exempts teachers union contract negotiations, and burdens cash-strapped public school districts with costly litigation.

Those arguments reflect the opinions of the bill’s opponents, including the Colorado Bar Association, Colorado Association of School Boards, the Council of School Attorneys and Colorado League of Charter Schools.

The Senate Judicial Committee will meet Monday to consider amendments and vote on moving the bill to the Senate floor. The House narrowly passed HB 1110 last month.

Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) said the Democrat-dominated legislature wouldn’t dream of passing a bill to record the conversations between an attorney and Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.

“We wouldn’t even think of passing that, and here we are protecting the rights of a hideous murderer and overriding the rights of locally elected school board officials,” said Swalm. “I think this bill is just wrong headed.”

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2 Responses to House Bill Would Protect Unions, Open School Boards to Lawsuits

  1. Bob Terry
    March 8, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Democrats what can you say. Be nice if they were as transparent, as they want to legislate on everyone else. They are the teachers union biggest weapon. But both cannot figure out why the Public School system sucks and they kids still cannot read or write. Remember, there is an election coming soon. These screw you Democrats need to be voted out of office. But again, maybe the people of Colorado, want to be lead around like a bull going to slaughter. Better wake up people of Colorado, or you will be liberalized into a clone copy of California, and New York State. The city and County of Denver should become like Detroit, and wonder why people are moving out. Higher taxes, a bunch you can’t do anything legislation, and stupid Kids in a stupid over regulated and under performing schools and school districts.

  2. JeffcoMom
    March 9, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I’m confused by the slant of this article and the comment made. In Jeffco, the “reformers” ran on a joint platform of increased transparency for the district. Then, at their second major meeting, they tried to vote to go into Executive Session to make decisions. Turns out, their lawyer was either unaware of or unable to understand the board bylaws which require a 2/3rds vote to go into Executive Session. The subsequent conversation didn’t even meet the standards of what Executive Session is for. That is exactly why the legislation was introduced. If you haven’t seen a DougCo school board meeting, many of them seem to run like this: Open the meeting; go into Executive Session; come out of Executive Session; vote with no explanation; sit and listen to 1 minute per person of comments (freedom of speech issues, anyone?); go home. I think we can all agree this is not a transparent process with taxpayer dollars and a public school system.

    I’m supportive of the legislation not due to unions, but due to the use of my tax dollars and the decisionmaking for which board members of any kind should be held accountable – in particular, those in public service. If a “chilling effect” is that people have to clean up their act, not collude and assure that people understand why they are choosing their decisions, so be it.


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