For the second year in a row, Jeffco teachers are returning to work without knowing what they will be paid. In fact, we are returning to work without certain knowledge of our work conditions at all. If you have kids in Jeffco schools, you should know that you don’t have certain knowledge of your child’s learning conditions. What you can know is that, for the second year in a row, the board majority’s lack of respect for kids, teachers, and the community will not be visible in your child’s classroom, because teachers are going to rise above this. For now.
A tentative agreement has been reached between the district negotiators and the teachers of Jeffco. It must be ratified by both sides. Last year’s tentative agreement was not at all what teachers believed was good for kids, but the district made clear that it was their last, best offer, and in the interest of district stability, the teachers ratified it. The school board agreed to it, and then three of the five members reneged on that agreement. Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams decided their ideology trumped kids, teachers, and the community.
I don’t know what will happen this year. Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams decreed that negotiations should start from a blank sheet of paper. The district wasted at least $30,000 (a conservative estimate) on a negotiations facilitator when they could have used a free one from the labor board. District administrative personnel who have many other job duties spent hours in negotiations, away from other important work. Teachers volunteered hours and hours to meet with the district team. The cost—in volunteer hours and taxpayer dollars—was considerable. In the end, they built a collaborative agreement that met the interests declared by the board and many of the things teachers believed served the interests of kids (yes, including language to attract and retain good teachers).
Now, the board majority has decided this agreement should last 10 months, and then be renegotiated from scratch—or more likely, be allowed to lapse and teacher and community voices regarding classroom conditions be silenced. They simply aren’t transparent enough to say so.
It’s a tough call for teachers as we all mull over whether to accept or reject this agreement. I do not know a single teacher who believes this is best for students. Stability is best for students. We get that some parts of the agreement may require adjustments; that’s why we suggested that the district be allowed to open whatever parts of the agreement it wishes for renegotiation next year, but the stability of a multi-year contract creates a healthy work and learning environment in our schools. Why don’t Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams want this?
If we ratify a 10-month agreement, we do so knowing that, should the recall fail, we will lose a collectively bargained agreement in June. That’s what happened in Douglas County, and it is the secret plan here. The mainstream newspapers will report that our board majority is awesome, because it “successfully” negotiated with the teachers, but make no mistake, that will be a lie. It is a deal with the devil in the hopes that the better angels of our nature will intervene in a few months.
If we ratify, it will be to protect due process through the recall. Without a collectively bargained agreement, I can be fired for this blog. Bear in mind that I am rated highly effective, not just overall…not just in every category…but on every single indicator in every single category. How is silencing me best for kids? (And actually, that won’t silence me. I will risk my job for your kids, even though I have two years of college tuition payments to go before my own child graduates. That’s how important this is. Is due process really that much to ask in return?) Ratification will only happen with the dear hope that Witt, Newkirk, and Williams will be recalled and a more rational, kid-focused board voted in.
If we do not ratify, it will be because we know this agreement is the devil’s deal. The mainstream media will say teachers were uncooperative, but no one who actually attended this summer’s negotiations would make such an absurd allegation. We know that if a recall fails, this agreement is merely dragging out the death of Jefferson County Public Schools. If the recall fails, profit- and ideologically-motivated schools will eventually be all that are available to the general public. People who can afford a real education for their kids will bail out of Jeffco, and the kids who are left will become less and less competitive in the global market place. If we do not ratify, it will only be to try to wake up those in Jeffco still sleeping—either unaware of the conflict or unwilling to look at the facts, and therefore supporting this board based on shallow, uninformed ideology.
The recall is crucial, no matter what happens to the agreement. No one can afford to sit this out. The petitions to get the recall on the ballot were so encouraging. No longer can people beg off of doing the hard work ahead by saying “I can’t make a difference.” But 37,000 (the number who signed each petition) is not enough to actually recall Witt, Newkirk, and Williams. People cannot stay at home, figuring the job is done.
Collectively bargained agreement or no agreement, you (and I mean everyone in Jeffco reading this) have been called to serve your community. In fact, I would say that education is the cornerstone of democracy, and the fight in Jeffco is a bellwether for the nation, so I would argue that you are being called to serve your country. We have asked people to sacrifice life and limb for America. Don’t tell me you can’t knock on doors or phone bank.
And by the way, a couple of billionaires in Kansas are already pouring money into Jeffco to buy our kids’ education out from under them. Our grass-roots community representatives, Jeffco United for Action, have only us to depend upon. If you want something to do to help right this very minute, go here and donate. If you don’t live in Jeffco but care about our schools or want to stem this tide before it overtakes your own schools, feel free to kick in a little, too.