By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Last Wednesday’s Adams 12 School Board meeting packed the house with union protesters, while security officers escorted three residents from the boardroom to their vehicles to ensure their protection.
The offense? Two of the residents openly and respectfully took exception with the District Twelve Educators Association’s loudly projected point of view concerning the board’s proposal to balance the budget. Teacher pension contributions are being increased to align with other employee groups, resulting in a net pay reduction of 1.5 percent.
Adams 12 is Colorado’s fifth largest school district, with nearly 43,000 students enrolled last year. DTEA is one of the larger affiliates of the Colorado Education Association, which reports having lost roughly 8 percent of its membership in the past two years.
Nearly 400 teachers — including many from six other area school districts — showed up at Wednesday’s board meeting to protest the suburban Denver board’s decision. The school board made the move when adopting the new budget June 20. On Aug. 24, DTEA distributed a flier through its building representatives alerting members of the decision.
Several pro-union speakers provided public comments to applause from the crowd, claiming the board had violated the collective-bargaining agreement.
But two other attendees rose to offer a different view.
District taxpayer Joseph Hein, who has attended numerous board meetings this year, mentioned the extra burdens parents have taken from recent cuts made to transportation and middle school sports. He then gently urged the District 12 teachers in attendance to listen carefully to the board’s response. “You guys are part of the solution, as well,” he said, while union members waved signs from the crowd.
Sara Colburn, mother of three Adams 12 students, also pleaded with those in attendance. “You need to realize that you are not the only people hurting right now. I guarantee you that families have made many more sacrifices than you have,” she said, prompting most of the union members in the crowd to file out of the boardroom — some booing, many clapping rhythmically — as she concluded her remarks.
“We sat there and we listened to what they had to say,” Colburn later explained. “As soon as they heard something they didn’t like or didn’t agree with, I guess they felt like they didn’t owe me the same courtesy.”
Afterward, the school district’s head of security approached the speakers out of concern for their safety. “(He) told me he thought it probably would be a good idea if he took us to our cars,” said Colburn. “He said all those people that had cleared out were outside the front doors waiting for us.”
The security officer escorted Colburn and her husband through a separate exit to the back of the building, where he then drove them to their vehicle in the main parking lot. Plain-clothes security officers walked Hein to his car, out of the same concern.
“I was taken aback by the intensity of the protest,” Hein later said. “It was a bit disturbing to be escorted out of the building for my protection.”
Another Adams 12 parent, Patty Stagr, sent a note to the superintendent and school board after the meeting indicating she opted not to speak on behalf of taxpayers because she felt “intimidated by the aggressive nature of” union protesters making displays of “disrespect.” She refused to answer one teacher’s inquiry into where her children attend school.
“Our teachers spend lots of time on stopping bullying in schools,” Stagr wrote. “Well, this group could have taught a class in HOW TO BULLY.”
These accounts, many of which are directly supported by video evidence, contradict the report of one DTEA official quoted by local news reporter Darin Moriki:
“There was no anger or hostility among those people who came tonight,” said Missy Salter, a District 12 Educators’ Association executive board member and Shadow Ridge Middle School sixth-grade mathematics teacher.
Very few of the union protesters remained to hear the board’s response. Director Norm Jennings explained how state law required the adoption of a budget before June 30. He argued that the board’s actions did not violate the union contract, and that cutting teacher compensation was a difficult but necessary decision.
“We are not going to create further budget problems that impact our kids even further later on by taking the easy road now,” Jennings said.
Having reached an impasse in collective-bargaining negotiations, Adams 12 and DTEA await the report of a fact finder due out later this fall.
One of the speakers escorted from the meeting reflected on the difficulty of finding a resolution going forward. “The tragedy is that most of the protesters never heard the board speak that night,” Hein said. “If we can’t have a dialogue, I’m not sure how we improve things for students.”