Attacking Dougco school board, union leaders swing… and miss

By Ben DeGrow

Christmas is just days away. While many students in Colorado schools are starting their long-awaited breaks, the disgruntled teachers union leadership in Douglas County is stepping up their smear campaign. And while they stretch the truth to attack the school board that bid them adieu, their attacks also leave behind some collateral damage. They swing and miss the target, but end up hitting others.

A new YourHub piece by the Denver Post’s Clayton Woullard shines some light on the activities of the union’s local front group “Douglas County Classrooms,” and its forceful push to resist both expanded choice for families and a more accountable, performance-based school system. Unfortunately, the union-backed group’s self-serving message conflicts with some of the facts:

[Douglas County Federation field representative Mandy Sheets] also mentioned parents and teachers in Douglas County Classrooms are concerned by the amount of time the board is spending in executive session, the increased work load of high school teachers with a new schedule that is meant to save money, she said, while the district continues to grow its general fund balance. District officials have said the balance is at levels it requires in case of emergency.

Seems they’re concerned about a board spending too much time in executive session the same way that a Mafia enforcer might be concerned about his victim spending too much time in the hospital with broken knees. Behind the scenes, DCFT actively supported the ongoing lawsuit against the Choice Scholarship program. The lawsuit has contributed significantly to the board needing to spend decision-making time behind closed doors.

Union leadership also continues to complain about the district’s fiscally conservative practices. Try explaining to taxpayers, though, why they shouldn’t be happy with a stable budget that sustains teacher raises and a consistently high bond rating. After all, DCSD has focused support on students and classrooms, cutting from the central administration annual budget 20 full-time positions and $1.3 million (20 percent) over the past five years. DCFT could be upset because the board slashed 100 percent of taxpayer funds (roughly $300,000/year) used to pay for unaccountable union officers to leave the classroom.

As for the new high school schedule Sheets grumbles about, 90 percent of students surveyed like the the change. Without sacrificing overall instructional time, the plan grants more course options and flexibility. The top reason given by the handful who don’t like the change: “Some teachers have a negative attitude.” Hmmm… I wonder why?

Sheets also gripes that a part of the developing performance pay plan, known as “world-class education targets,” provide “no clarity” and ultimately no benefit to students. But the 100 Dougco teachers who have spent weekend hours collaborating to develop these targets certainly would have to disagree. Not only students and taxpayers, but also other teachers, are left under the bus by the union’s indiscriminate attacks.

Meanwhile, a relatively high-performing district continues to shine (19 John Irwin schools of excellence) while striving to build a system of greater excellence and making sure that all students’ needs are served. The high stakes of November’s Douglas County school board elections suddenly have become even clearer.


Posted by ben on Dec 21st, 2012 and filed under Blogs, Labor, Teachers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

9 Responses for “Attacking Dougco school board, union leaders swing… and miss”

  1. Rich Dierenfield says:

    It’s so good to hear the positive things happening in this district! Thanks for the information Ben

  2. Brian White says:

    Thanks for another wonderful piece of hack journalism, Mr. DeGrow. I needed a good laugh this morning. The real facts, however, tell a much different story. It isn’t just “union leadership” who is unhappy about the inordinate amount of time this board spends in executive session. The lawsuit over the unconstitutional and illegal voucher program notwithstanding, there is no valid reason for this public schools board to spend over half its time behind closed doors discussing matters of public interest.

    Why don’t you try explaining to taxpayers why their kids are missing out on opportunities due to budget cuts, parents are paying for bus rides to and from school, and fees have increased while we continue to see the fund balance grow by tens of millions of dollars? District leadership in Douglas County didn’t exactly eliminate 20 full-time positions. Many of these positions were simply re-named. The fact of the matter is that our superintendent is far and away the highest paid superintendent in the state and five of our top leaders cashed in “unused” vacation days this year to the tune of $44,000.00.

    As far as the schedule is concerned, I find it interesting that you deem a survey of roughly 40 students valid while your friends in DCSD deemed a survey of almost 4,000 parents invalid-a survey that emphatically showed parents are not happy with the direction of this school district. Of course these kids like the new high school schedule. These students go to school on a part-time basis now. What kid wouldn’t like that? My kids would like to have cake and ice cream for breakfast every morning, but my kids don’t get to make those decisions in my house. The truth is that this schedule is not good for kids, it has reduced instructional time, it has reduced planning time for teachers, and it is wildly unpopular with parents.

    Finding these 100 teachers who feel as though they actually collaborated on the new evaluation system is a little like finding Big Foot. You here he’s out there, but I spend a lot of time in the woods and I’ve never seen him. The bottom line is this-the evaluation system is not complete and the benchmarks have not been defined. Nobody seems to know what these “World Class Targets” are, so I’d say Sheets is right on when she says that the evaluation system provides no clarity. It’s clear as mud. This district continues to shine in spite this school board and because of the great teachers we still have. However, we can’t continue to see a 42% increase in teacher turnover from year-to-year and sustain our excellence.

    The good news is that your pals on the Douglas County School Board are their own worst enemy. They continue to anger the parents in our district at nearly every turn. Next year the voters in our county will have the opportunity to elect 4 new board members who will return the focus back to our kids. I have been attending house parties with parents and we have been hearing from realtors that prospective home buyers are asking them not to look for homes in Douglas County. This affects every home owner in Douglas County.

    All the voters have to do is ask themselves one simple question before next year’s election…is this school district better off than it was four years ago? The answer to that question will lead to the election of a new slate of school board members in 2013.

  3. ben says:

    Brian, I am glad to know that this piece was able to help lighten the spirits of a disgruntled pro-union teacher. You may have a point about the student survey, though the documented decline of instructional time is minimal at best. But it would help your argument greatly if you could link to (or otherwise document) your assertions regarding re-named positions, salaries, payouts, etc. Otherwise, one might believe your criticism is just rooted in sour grapes and a knee-jerk desire to elect a board that will restore union perks and power. In the meantime, maybe you can work to find some of the teachers who worked on the evaluation system — a challenging and time-consuming task, to be sure, one that I didn’t realize was already supposed to be rendered complete.

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  5. Brian White says:

    I don’t benefit in any way from “union perks,” Ben. It’s understandable that you have little idea about what’s going on in Douglas County. I mean, you don’t live in our county and your kids don’t go to school here. Maybe those of us who are truly invested in DCSD have a much better idea of what the real issues are? Anyway, I don’t blame you. After the voucher program was found to be illegal and you were no longer needed to run the sham charter school the board tried to establish, your disconnectedness is to be expected.

  6. Brian White says:

    And by the way…I’m not a “disgruntled pro-union teacher.” I am a parent of two children who are being denied opportunities by a school board that does not represent e interests of the majority of parents in Douglas County. Interesting that you are always quick to point out the name-calling by others, but you always resort to that tactic ourself.

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