By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
On Monday, all students in the suburban Douglas County School District will have returned for the 2012-13 session.
For officials of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, this year represents a break from the past. All that remains is to see just how memorable, or forgettable, the next nine months will be for students, parents and teachers in Colorado‘s third largest school district.
DCFT’s collective-bargaining agreement lapsed on July 1. The union’s power to represent teachers, its access to government payroll for dues collection, and six-figure taxpayer subsidies for its officers to do union business all disappeared. A move away from unionization in a large school district with 60,000 students is practically unheard of. Colorado is one of only nine states where local school boards even have the legal authority to make the change.
Before the agreement lapsed, DCFT pinned its hopes on state intervention from Department of Labor Executive Director Ellen Golombek. Not only did Golombek spend a decade in charge of the state’s AFL-CIO, but her boss, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, also received the maximum $10,000 campaign contribution from DCFT’s state affiliate in 2010.
Such requests for intervention as the one DCFT filed on June 21 are rare in Colorado. And Hickenlooper has gained a reputation for embracing popularity and averting controversy. So it’s been difficult to predict how and when his administration would respond to a decision between angering a loyal Democratic contributor and pursuing an apparent conflict of interest. Do DCFT leaders have to take some sort of rash school year action to generate a pretext for the governor to come to their rescue?
They’re not ruling it out. On the DCFT website’s FAQ page, the question “Are we going on strike?” receives no clear, direct answer, but an explanation that “All options are on the table” and “A strike is always the last resort.” The DCFT leaders know the national American Federation of Teachers has their back with a “solidarity” resolution that would support a strike to protect union power and prerogative. Not that a labor action that abandons student classrooms is likely to be popular in conservative Douglas County.
DCFT president Brenda Smith tells a local reporter that the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement should have little effect on the union’s daily operations in the 2012-13 school year. That doesn’t sound like a union eager to fight for its former privileged status. Not that too much can be read into DCFT leaders’ public statements.
But still, a quiet school year in which Colorado’s third-largest district forges ahead toward excellence in professional teaching and student learning ironically would make a loud statement. Each new turn of the calendar and ringing of the school bell without unwanted political disruptions could only boost such hopes.