Weld County School District Bargaining Dispute Starts Getting National Spotlight

I’m still catching up on stories and commentaries I may have missed while on break at the end of the year. A few months ago I brought your attention to a growing dispute in Weld County’s Valley Re-1 School District, from the local teachers association that claimed its collective bargaining privileges were being stripped away illicitly.

In December by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow on his personal blog took a closer look and found more reasons to be skeptical of the Valley Education Association’s claims that the existing policy represented collective bargaining. He also pointed out how the dispute was set up by Colorado’s unique legal formulation and noted the potentially significant ramifications from VEA’s lawsuit against the school district for officially changing the policy. A precedent from the case very well could affect other Colorado districts with similar policies.

Well, on December 23, the Michigan-based Education Action Group (EAG) featured the story in its national e-newsletter and on its NEAExposed blog under the headline “Colorado school board battling to keep aggressive teachers union in check.” EAG’s interview with the Valley Re-1 superintendent:

The problem is that the VEA has been trying to transform the informal discussion process into a full-blown collective bargaining system, according to Dr. Jo Barbie, superintendent of the district.

By bringing issues like salaries, benefits, the school calendar, leave time and professional development to the table, the union tried to demonstrate that it has in fact been engaging in collective bargaining, resulting in a de facto teachers contract.

After noting how union representatives had walked out of costly informal negotiations several times in recent years, the article concluded:

The board may vote to restore the “meet and confer” sessions later this year, but the format would be different, Barbie said. All employees would be welcome to take part in the process, and the union would not have a special seat at the table, she said.

The school board is obviously not willing to risk the appearance of negotiating with the union on substantive issues. That’s because the courts are watching, and the future of the Weld RE-1 district, and similar districts throughout the state, could hang in the balance.

”Quite honestly, they were trying to back-door a master agreement,” Barbie said of the union. “They want to argue in court that they’ve developed a collective bargaining process through practice, that they have a de facto master agreement.

”This (court case) could have a huge impact on other districts in similar situations.”

I agree. And it’s good to see the story starting to get the attention it deserves. Next up? The first scheduled hearing in the VEA’s lawsuit is set for February 9.