Union, School Board Negotiations Made Public in Colorado Vote

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The little-noticed Proposition 104 in Colorado will change the way school boards negotiate with teacher unions as the only statewide ballot measure to be approved by the state’s voters last Tuesday.

A small number of states already require school boards to allow the public to attend meetings. This means that negotiations on collective bargaining agreements and union contracts will be open for all to see. Only around a fourth of Colorado districts have collective bargaining agreements, but they are the largest districts and account for the most public school students. The move will assist taxpayers in understanding the spending that sometimes is the greater part of a school board’s fiscal budget. The process will become more transparent.

Proposition 104 will only require that meetings regarding collective bargaining be available to the public. It does not, says Sean Kennedy writing for Collegian Central, give citizens the right to participate in these meetings. The law allows the public more information, not more decision-making power. The plus is that the new policy will allow parents to become more involved in their children’s education and the processes that manage their children’s education.

There is not a clear picture yet of how the law will affect how teachers and school districts will negotiate, but Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press reports that the measure received almost 70% of the vote.

Colorado’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and the Colorado Association of School Executives were opposed to the measure. Mike Wetzel, CEA spokesman, said that the language in the law is vague and does not spell out exactly how the measure will function. Because Proposition 104 is a law, it is probable that lawmakers will try to make changes along the way.

In a story on KUSA-TV, opponents claimed that bargaining negotiations concerning employment issues can be sensitive and could be a disadvantage to school boards when they are discussing labor contracts.

“This was an issue of transparency and we believe that secrecy is the enemy of good government,” Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, said. “The question is: when people see how unions operate, will they more comfortable with the idea of operating without them? I think that’s a good possibility.”

The Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) opposed the measure because it was not clear, especially in explaining which meetings can be held in private, according to Ken DeLay, executive director of CASB.

“The sense was that if we can’t at least develop our bargaining positions privately, that’s going to be a real detriment to the district and put the district at a disadvantage in relationship to the union,” DeLay said.

The Independence Institute, a conservative political think tank, supported the proposition.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the CEA, stated that if the authors of Proposition 104 had worked with the education community, the language of the law could have been clarified.