August
20th 2012
Accountability, Please? Arbitrator Says Dougco Union Can Keep Tax Funds

Posted under PPC & School Accountability & School Board & School Finance & Teachers

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.

3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Accountability, Please? Arbitrator Says Dougco Union Can Keep Tax Funds”

  1. Choice isn't about choice on 20 Aug 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Grasping at straws again, aren’t you Ben DeGrow? The arbitrator ruled against the Board of Education and the Douglas County School District because they were wrong. I wonder if an apology from the Board of Education is in the offing? Meh…not likely.

  2. Eddie on 23 Aug 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Mr. White:

    Quite to the contrary, it is you who are grasping at straws. The ruling has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of the policy of tax-funded union leave per se, but the fact the policy was embedded in a previously existing collective bargaining contract.

    I think you know that the ruling centers around a disagreement between the district and the union over what Superintendent Fagen and President Smith may have discussed or decided beforehand regarding pay and accountability for DCF leave time. The arbitrator said the money couldn’t be demanded back because of the contract language that was still in effect.

    The fact the arbitrator ruled against the district is actually an argument against embedding tax-funded giveaways like this in collective bargaining agreements, since it takes flexibility away from districts. I don’t know if there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding between Fagen and Smith, but letters from the district show the superintendent believed there to be some sort of verbal agreement. In the end, though, it comes down to “she said / she said.” And makes the case, as I note above, to get the agreement in writing.

    No, Brian, grasping at straws would be just glossing over the headline and ignoring the underlying substance, or making up an issue out of thin air. The issue of tax-funded union leave is one we have researched and documented and written about for some time. This latest happening makes another illustrative point about the need for reform. Smith’s reluctance to accept even basic accountability for the tax-funded leave time speaks volumes.

    By the way, what do you think of school board Director Richardson’s proposal to put the money in a special fund for teacher supplies?

  3. Ed is Watching » Dougco School Board Challenges Union Leaders, May Seek Voters’ Input on 23 Aug 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    [...] it or not, it’s been a whole three days since I last shared some thoughts on the exciting goings-on in Colorado’s third-largest school district. An arbitrator ruled [...]

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