That Old Colorado School District Open Union Negotiations Momentum? It's Back

Last April I asked the question: Is momentum growing for open school union negotiations in Colorado? The results ended up mixed — with Colorado Springs District 11 opening more of their bargaining to public view while Jefferson County redoubled under a veil of secrecy.

Well, tagging on at the end of an Ed News Colorado story about Jeffco school district employees pleading with the Board to stop budget cuts was this little nugget about last night’s meeting:

Shortly before public comment began Thursday, board members voted 4-1 to close employee negotiations to the public. Board member Laura Boggs was the only “no” vote.

Defenders of the status quo learned their lesson from last year. Since the teachers union bargaining agreement in the state’s largest school district says negotiations are supposed to be open, they needed to act early and decisively to keep the prying eyes of taxpayers away from important discussions. Sad. But thankfully, it’s not the only Colorado front in the fight to open union negotiations and bring the public into public education.

You have to go no farther than Douglas County, Colorado’s third-largest school district, where union leaders have lashed out against the reform-minded school board. Rather than sit back and let contentious negotiations fester behind closed doors, or allow the unseemly tactics to continue outside them, a group of local citizens is urging the board to open negotiations and shine the light on the real disputed issues. You can read (and sign, if you support) their petition here. It reads in part:

Negotiated union policies greatly impact how our tax dollars are spent and how our schools and classrooms function. In tight budget times, when we rightly demand greater accountability of our elected school board to make tough decisions, these decisions should be made in full view!

Meanwhile, at the State Capitol, Representative Kathleen Conti has introduced House Bill 1118 with the goal of “ensuring transparency in collective bargaining negotiations.” As my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explained in a 2010 issue backgrounder, a similar bill was introduced, and very nearly passed, eight years ago (back in the dark ages…).

HB 1118 is slated for a committee hearing later this month, so you can expect to hear more soon about this important issue of public transparency and accountability. As I’ve pointed out before, open negotiations not only would remind union officials who they’re bargaining against (you: the taxpayer), but it also would help clarify who really is in charge of public education.