Colo. School District, Union Once had Harmony

Marion Herbert's picture
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seventeen months ago, the collaborative relationship between the Douglas County (Colo.) School District and its teachers’ union was lauded nationally.

An agenda for the February 2011 Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration described the relationship as “an outstanding example of labor-management collaboration and innovation.”

“We look forward to sharing the work we have done with our partner, the Douglas County Federation,” Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said then. “We are excited that our tradition of innovation and collaboration will be showcased for a national audience.”

Today, that partnership is in shambles, with the two groups in the spotlight for the dissolution of the long-held collective bargaining agreement that expired June 30.

As in most divorces, the two blame one another for the organizational breakdown, citing instances of betrayal and deepening distrust.

Union president Brenda Smith says fissures started to show during the 2009 school board campaigns, while school board president John Carson says the heaviest blow to the relationship came with the fall 2011 failure of two district ballot issues.

In 2009, the Republican Party endorsed the four candidates who won the election, and the union endorsed four who lost, who included members of both major parties. Both the Republican Party and the American Federation of Teachers, of which the DCF is an affiliate, contributed to their candidates’ campaigns.

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