DENVER – A union-backed bill to protect tenured teachers from being placed on unpaid leave was killed Monday by its sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) who said he didn’t want to face “hours of debate” to defend the measure.
“We should be sickened and embarrassed by the battles over K-12 education,” Salazar said “These battles drive the sane to insanity and the adults to immaturity.”
If House Bill 1268 had been debated, an opponent would have been Denver Public Schools (DPS), which Salazar blasted throughout his testimony before the House Education Committee.
Showing a stack of amendments to his bill, Salazar said he had shared them previously with DPS administrators who became “increasingly and stubbornly rooted in opposition” to them.
“Every recommendation, every solution, every amendment that was floated the way of the DPS administration was rejected outright,” he said.
“The CEA (Colorado Educators Association) was even willing to say that if we could come to an agreement on a legislative fix, they would be willing to reconsider its lawsuit against Denver Public Schools,” said Salazar.
Salazar’s measure would have amended union-opposed provisions in Senate Bill 191 that was passed with bipartisan support and enacted in 2010. Those provisions led to a lawsuit filed in January by the unions, CEA and Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
The unions first threatened legal action in 2013, but held back to prevent bad publicity from hurting their campaign to pass Amendment 66, a nearly $1 billion income tax hike that voters ultimately nixed in November.
The teachers’ unions are fighting language that empowers school districts to eliminate teaching positions, transfer educators to other jobs only by consent of the principal or hiring committee, or put displaced instructors on unpaid leave indefinitely.
The unions also oppose a provision that bases 50 percent of teacher evaluations on student scores on standardized tests now rooted in Common Core, national standards the unions continue to support.
However, Salazar said that DPS is the only school district in the state that used his bill to put 2,923 tenured teachers on leave since its passage. All but 57 teachers have been placed in “mutual consent” positions, retained jobs under a “protected status,” retired or found other jobs, said Salazar citing DPS reports.
“The practice of forced placement is wrong,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg told Chalkbeat Colorado after the lawsuit was filed. “It is wrong for our students, wrong for our teachers and wrong for our schools.”
On Monday, Boasberg expressed the same opinions and his disappointment that Salazar circumvented the debate process by having the bill killed.
Boasberg said Salazar had grossly misrepresented the negotiations with DPS over the amendments and that the talks broke down because the Democratic lawmaker refused to consider compromises.
The committee voted unanimously to kill HB 1268 at the request of Salazar, who said he plans to work with stakeholders including DPS, the unions and community leaders to introduce a new bill next year.