Accountability, Please? Arbitrator Says Dougco Union Can Keep Tax Funds

Ed News Colorado reports today regarding a dispute over publicly-funded teacher union employees, that an arbitrator has ruled in favor of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) and against the taxpayers. At issue is $118,500 school district officials say the union president agreed to pay rather than be accountable for the use of tax-funded time:

Emails provided by the district show Superintendent Liz Fagen approached Smith about changing the arrangement, saying she wanted to provide more accountability for taxpayer funds.

Fagen asked that the four union staff members report half of the time – the 50 percent paid by the district – to district administrators. Smith countered with a proposal that the union pay 100 percent of the employees’ costs and forgo changes in supervision.

But, Smith said, she emphasized such a change would have to be reached through negotiations.

If only the issue were isolated to Douglas County. As my Education Policy Center friends reported in 2010, many Colorado school districts dole out tax-funded release time to union officials with very little or no accountability. It’s very revealing that DCFT president Brenda Smith offered to give back an extra six figures in taxpayer funds rather than have union officers account for their time up the district’s chain of command.

The difference with nearly every other school district is Dougco leaders opted to take a stand. Their decision’s importance is underscored by the tighter fiscal picture facing the school district. If when the pennies need to be pinched officials can’t rein in public funds handed out to union officers and activists (including to go lobby state legislators when they’re supposed to be in the classroom), what kind of tough decisions can citizens expect their elected school leaders to make on their behalf?

The moral of the story? Get it in writing, especially when taxpayer dollars are at stake and a well-heeled interest group is on the hook.