Interesting news this week out of Phoenix, Arizona, where a judge ruled it unconstitutional for taxpayers to fund police union “release time” activities, and put an injunction on the practice. We’re talking about two different states, and two different sectors of government, but one has to wonder whether a similar case could be made about underwriting Colorado teachers’ union business?
It may not be happening through the courts, but it appears officials in Colorado’s fifth-largest school district are taking a second look at a policy that in 2009-10 cost taxpayers more than $187,000 to release three union officers. The District Twelve Educators Association (DTEA) recently announced to its members that the Adams 12 school board is proposing changes to the part of the union contract that grants the tax-paid release time.
The two parties last week conducted the first negotiating session in which the initial offers were exchanged. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know much more than the issues up for discussion because DTEA balked at the district’s request to open negotiations to public view. (Readers can listen to an Adams 12 school board member discuss the controversy on a recent radio appearance interviewed by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow.)
Last year at a school board meeting, teachers applauded a concerned taxpayer who proposed the idea of collective bargaining transparency two weeks after a tense showdown compelled district security to escort him out of a meeting for his own safety.
It makes sense to think union officials would want the bright sunlight of open negotiations to expose all the dirt and corruption and bad faith bargaining they have alleged of the school board — or at least to prevent it from recurring. But Article 4.1 of the current collective bargaining agreement says both parties must agree to undo the traditional pattern of closed negotiations.
Among other things, it’s one way to keep teachers and taxpayers from seeing the tax-funded release time arrangement exposed. But now that the suburban Denver district has a board committed to fiscal responsibility and treating ALL stakeholders fairly, maybe there’s another way to point out the old negotiated policy and see how most community members feel about it.
Douglas County’s school board has set the example for ending the practice of tax-funded union release time, in the interest of using public dollars effectively and with accountability. You can’t blame DTEA leaders, or their Colorado Education Association mother ship, for wanting to keep the gravy train deal under wraps. However, that ship may already have sailed.