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Healthy Organizations, Open Negotiations, & Political Tensions

March 9, 2012

As I have been in our schools visiting with teachers, I have been asked a lot of questions about the Board of Education.  People have heard a lot of information about our board that, frankly, is not true.  I am not the defender of the board, but at the same time, I am also not the kid who stands on the playground and stands by as another kid gets picked on.  Here are some of the most common questions and the answers.

Q – Does the board hate teachers?

A – No, the board loves great teachers.  They want to pay them more money, they want to stop judging great teachers through the lens standardized test craze, and they know that great teachers are the key to student success – their number one priority.

Q – Does the board want to privatize public education?

A – No, the board has 18 children and all 18 go to a DCSD public school.  They have great things to say about their schools.  Of the 18, 17 go to neighborhood schools and 1 attends a charter school.  The board is interested in empowering parents to understand what schools are available so that parents can make the perfect match for their children.  The board wants every child to have the highest probability of success and they want to partner with parents in making that happen while keeping everything in balance with the needs of the greater district.

Q – Does the board want to cut all of our salaries?

A – No, I have never heard that – not once.

Q – Why did the board endorse a political candidate? Aren’t they supposed to represent us?

A – The board members exercised their free speech rights and endorsed someone as individuals.  They did not take a vote or pass a resolution on the matter.  It is not the district’s position – it is their individual positions.

Q – Is there an effort for the board and union to work together?

A – Yes, board members have been meeting with union officers.  President Carson just met with Brenda Smith and Cindy Lietch on Monday.  I was there also.  Negotiations can be challenging – particularly in difficult economic times.  The Board is going to negotiate on behalf of all employees and work hard to do what they believe is in the best interest of students and staff.  They are not always going to agree with the union’s positions.

Q – Did you fire the union?

A – No.  I learned that the district paid 70% of 3 union officers, 20% of clerical, 50% for president and 50% for classified leader last year.  I was told it was a special arrangement, and wanting to partner in good faith, we continued it.  It is a significant amount of money ($1.3 million over the last five years).  Then, Brenda Smith and I negotiated last spring to change the arrangement to make it (in my view) more comfortable, accountable, and transparent – moving to the district paying for 50% of 4 union officers who were working on specific projects with the district.

During tight budget times when class sizes are going up etc., I think we need to do a good job with our resources, and I (we) believed this was a better arrangement.  However, after a test period of many months, the project-specific work did not seem to be working.  After many conversations about how to fix that, I asked for more accountability and Brenda happily agreed to pay 100% for all officers in lieu of accountability for time or deliverables.  I thought more time together would be good, but steadfast in her position, I agreed to the change.  We have been working with our attorneys to execute this agreement change because part of it requires changes to our contractual language.

Q – Does the board want open negotiations?

A – Yes, we would like to be able to speak freely about what we want to do differently next year.  It is difficult to not be able to discuss ideas with everyone – to hear feedback, input, and discussion on important matters.  Last night, Brenda Smith (during the public forum) agreed to public negotiations.  We are really looking forward to sharing all that we would like to do and the associated rationale with all of you.  I am excited to hear more input and feedback.  People have really done a good job talking with me during my visits about what is most important to them.  The themes are very consistent across schools in our district.

Q – What about teacher morale?

A – Teachers across this district are sharing with me that they would really like a raise – that is part of the picture.  We want that too.  In addition to that, people are sharing various fears and worries that are hurting them.  I think communication, visibility, and opportunities for employees are key to improving morale, trust, and pride.  We can’t fix the economy or the budget, but most of what I am hearing about we can fix – we will fix.

For example, my teacher advisory is very interested in working on these items also.  They are currently developing strategies (brainstorming) that they believe will spread positive, factual information, build trust, and restore pride.  I personally believe (and the board agrees) that this is an extraordinary district.  It is not broken.  Yes, we have had some challenging years.  We started budget cuts in 2009 to repair the fund balance (first actual decrease in revenues was 2011), and we have continued those cuts for four years.  Some have struggled to move on, but almost everyone knows that there is no better education in Colorado and maybe the nation than here.  We have an excellent history of being innovative – of being a leader, and all of us want to get back to talking about instruction and being a leader in education – in instruction.  We want our students to be the best prepared in the world.  We want to show the right way to identify outcomes, the right way to assess important outcomes, and the right way to compensate and reward great employees.  We always have been that leader and we still are today.  There is no place I would rather have my two daughters educated than right here.

Pat McGraw (Innovation and Development Officer) says it best, “No one can argue with what we want for kids!”

As always, my team and I are interested in hearing your comments and questions. We would like to encourage you to direct them to the specific District department they are related to at Feedback Central. Since it has not always been feasible for me to provide detailed responses within this blog, comments and questions will be addressed by myself and my team in future meetings, blog posts and articles.