By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Some of us may remember those awful adolescent days and the occasionally excruciating pressure exerted by some peers. Back then I was not keen on standing out from the crowd in intelligence or academic achievement. Now I’m sure some of today’s teens do a better job of handling this than I did, sometime in the last millennium while I was awkwardly making my way toward adulthood. They may realize that being the one to step out and set a higher standard helps motivate others to improve and reach their potential.
Right now, the Douglas County school board is stepping out when it comes to what they expect of the teaching profession and how they relate to the union. By the end of the month, they may be Colorado’s largest school district without a collective bargaining agreement. Right now, 137 of the state’s 178 districts are non-unionized, though representing only about 10 percent of traditional public school teachers. Dougco alone makes up about 7 percent.
Thirty days ago 3,000 Dougco teachers were mailed individual contracts that they could return to indicate they wanted to keep their job assignments with the district. Despite union efforts to stoke fears that contracts should not be returned without the “protection” of a collective bargaining agreement, today’s deadline saw 97 percent return their contracts.
What exactly has the Board done (or nearly done) so far that has been played up to incite fear?
Break the unethical cycle of being the middleman for political causes by ending union payroll deductions
Insist that teachers have options beside the union to act as their “exclusive representative”
Stop paying union employees hundreds of thousands each year to do union business
Start piloting a genuine pay-for-performance system with differential market-based salary components based on teacher specialties
Curtail lavish severance package payouts and “longevity pay” in favor of giving teachers a 1 percent raise and a 1 percent retention bonus
End specially-privileged union access to district facilities and communication systems
Accomplishing any one of these items would be noteworthy. But to do them all in one fell swoop? Much closer to “earth-shaking,” I’d say.
Perhaps it’s been easier because last year this school board already separated itself from the crowd by adopting a local private Choice Scholarship Program (currently enjoined by the courts). Facing a little grief and persecution for distinguishing yourself — and in such a good way on behalf of students and families — steels the nerves for other hard work that needs to be done.
After the current matter in Douglas County is settled, a big question will remain: Will other districts stay busy picking on the strange kid and talking behind his back, or will they follow his lead and rise up to the higher standard?