Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) and negotiations with two Jeffco Schools employee associations are on the agenda for the Jeffco School Board’s Jan 19 special meeting. The board will hear a presentation about IBB earlier in the meeting, and later return to contract negotiations in order to give direction to the district’s negotiation team.
Jeffco Schools is expected to negotiate contracts with the Jefferson County Education Association this spring, and will also discuss optional proposals with the Jeffco Classified School Employees Association. The entire JCEA contract is up for renew in August, but the CSEA contract is only open to limited negotiations this year.
“It is my hope that we can start with a clean sheet of paper,” Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt said when the board first started discussing contract negotiations. He has repeated the “clean sheet of paper” phrase several times in subsequent board meetings.
Agreeing on even the most basic terms of negotiation has been an uphill road so far, as members of the board majority have been reluctant to use the IBB process that JCEA requested, have argued over when to schedule negotiation sessions, and have threatened to decline the free federal mediator who volunteered to facilitate contract talks because he will not agree to stream or record negotiations.
Thursday’s discussion of IBB is in response to the board’s request to learn more about IBB. IBB was also the process used during last spring’s contract negotiations, and is “a process that enables traditional negotiators to become joint problem-solvers,” according to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).
Negotiators focus on issues instead of personalities, the present and future instead of the past, interests underlying the issues and mutual interests. The site also cautions that, “Options developed to satisfy those interests should be evaluated by objective criteria, rather than power or leverage.”
Board member Julie Williams repeatedly voiced concerns that all negotiations be streamed and recorded, with perfect quality, unedited, and released by the next day so that community members can access the sessions. FMCS’s policy, however, is that no streaming or recording should be allowed. That prompted Williams to suggest the district forego the free facilitation offered by FMCS and pay a facilitator who would agree to stream and record the sessions.
Facilitators charge $800-$1,200 per day, which would make for a cost of $20,000 or more depending on how many days the district and JCEA negotiate. A motion was made to not use the free facilitator and approved on a 3-2 vote.
Williams also initially objected to the district’s proposal to hold negotiations during a mix of days, evenings and weekends, stating that people who work during the day would have a hard time streaming the meeting while at work. In addition, teachers on JCEA’s negotiating team also have to be replaced by substitutes during daytime sessions, which many see as a potential liability as standardized tests begin next month.
Board member Lesley Dahlkemper’s proposal to limit negotiations to evenings and weekends was voted down. Instead, Williams changed her earlier position and voted for the mix of days, evenings and weekends in a 3-2 vote.
Members of the JCEA district negotiating team include Jim Branum, an attorney at Caplan and Earnest as lead negotiator; Jeffco Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Weber, and Craig Hess, Chief Legal Counsel and Executive Director of Employee Relations. Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell will serve as the lead negotiator in CSEA negotiations.
JCEA contract negotiations broke down last year after the school board failed to provide direction to its negotiating team about compensation, despite repeated requests from JCEA. A federal mediator hammered out a tentative agreement between both parties, but Witt told JCEA he wanted more changes after both parties had already signed the agreement. JCEA refused to accept the changes because the district negotiating team had been in contact with school board members during mediation and the tentative agreement had been signed with the board member’s approval.
The Jeffco School Board refused to approve the tentative agreement on a 3-2 vote and the issue went to fact finding. Although the entire agreement went to fact finding, the main issue was whether teachers rated partly proficient should be eligible for step increases. The fact finder ruled in JCEA’s favor on the matter, stating that the current evaluation system “lacks sufficient validity and reliability as a basis for setting series.” He recommended the school board approve the tentative agreement.
The Jeffco School Board, however, refused to accept the fact finder recommendations, again on a 3-2 vote. It was the first time in Jeffco’s history that the board had not accepted the fact finding results.
Instead, Witt proposed an entirely different compensation scheme just before the Labor Day weekend after the 2014-15 school year had already started. Witt’s plan had not been discussed in earlier negotiations or at previous board meetings, but was adopted in September on a 3-2 vote.
Feb. 25 is the possible earliest meeting date to agree on negotiation process and related details. JCEA’s current contract expires Aug. 1. The meeting will be streamed at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.