After 90 minutes of bargaining with the Jefferson County school district, more than 600 Jeffco educators, parents and supporters walked out of a negotiation meeting between the district and the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) Monday, April 7.
The walkout followed a discussion of financials, specifically, teacher compensation. At which point, members of the district's negotiating team stated after recent budget amendments by the Board of Education, there were not enough dollars in the current budget to cover step increases for educators. JCEA members declared an impasse, moving the discussions into private mediation between the two groups and a third-party mediator.
“We (the JCEA) created a list of options and none of those were accepted by the district,” JCEA President, Ami Prichard said. “We felt our options were in line with the community survey, and our priorities were in line with the community's. We feel the board continues to ignore what we need for students to be successful.”
In the past two years, Jeffco educators have faced a 3 percent reduction in compensation to help weather budget cuts. During the 2013-2014 school year bargaining sessions, the district negotiated an agreement, earmarking a step increase for qualified employees within the school district.
“Previous boards have had a long history of collaborating with our educators,” said Lesley Dahlkemper, a member of the Jeffco Board of Education. “That tradition has unraveled in just a few weeks because some members of the board are not willing to honor an agreement made last year with teachers regarding compensation.”
In a statement sent to media by board President, Ken Witt, he states the board has earmarked $11.7 million as a compensation placeholder to honor last year's agreement to look at a compensation increase.
“The district has maintained a budgetary $11.7 million dollar total compensation increase placeholder in accordance with the expectations from last year, and I hope we are able to move forward to mutual agreement on compensation and honoring the terms of the agreement,” he said. “We are committed to honoring the association agreement.”
The JCEA and Jeffco school district have a 45-year history of collaboration, and Prichard said she hopes to continue that tradition and come to an agreement which meets the interests of all Jeffco students.
“We hope the district bargaining team and the board will sit down and decide to come to some agreements that are in the interests of all our kids,” she said. “We know our public wants a strong educations system and we're going to fight for it.”
As of press time, no timeline for mediation has been set.