Open Negotiations in Jeffco Schools? That Old Momentum Looks Like It's Back

It’s that time of year again, so it must mean that old Colorado school district open negotiations momentum is back. Last year our hopes were raised in Thompson and Adams 12, but the same old closed-door procedures carried the day. This little edublogger learned a lesson in patience.

Two years ago House Bill 1118 proposed requiring open negotiations for K-12 unions across Colorado. It passed the House but died in the Senate. About the same time, Douglas County led the way locally with the state’s most transparent school-union bargaining sessions ever.

We’ve been waiting ever since for someone to follow suit. And the news this week shows when it comes to Colorado school districts, it hardly could have been bigger:

In a break with longtime practice, contract negotiations between the Jeffco school board and the district’s teachers union will be open to the public this year.

“We are all about transparency and accountability for all aspects of our district,” said Ami Prichard, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union. “We think it will be interesting for the public to see.”

Hooray! It was in fact three years ago that we watched citizen-backed efforts to bring negotiation transparency to Jeffco fall apart under a cloak of secrecy. Even so, the case for transparent bargaining arrangements remains the same as when my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote the definitive piece for Colorado schools four years ago:

No negotiations between government agencies and private organizations over public policies and public dollars should be held in secret. As unions tend to exert extraordinary influence over the election of the board members with whom they negotiate, it is even more crucial to make bargaining sessions accessible to the press, parents and other concerned citizens.

With this latest news, I’ll be following the local developments about this topic of commonsense good government that seems so difficult to interject into the world of K-12 education. We just have to remember to be vigilant, knowing that simply calling negotiations “open” doesn’t necessarily make them so. Let teachers, taxpayers, and journalists watch. And let’s make the best decisions for kids, not for adult interests.