As anyone who has ever sat at either side of a bargaining table can attest, the labor-management relationship is already challenging enough in flush times. And it’s an order of magnitude tougher when budgets are tight and talk turns to paring things back. But as one Colorado district shows, it is not impossible for district and union leaders to work together to make tough decisions.
When the state’s Jefferson County school district faced a budget crunch in 2011, officials of the district and its teachers’ union purposefully decided to take a chance and collaborate, rather than engage in the common alternative: posturing, internal squabbling, an impasse, and, ultimately, layoffs.
Superintendent Cynthia M. Stevenson and Kerrie Dallman, then the president of the Jefferson County Education Association, hosted an “employee summit” at which representatives from the district, the union, and other employee groups outlined budget fundamentals, agreed on areas to cut, and then carried the details into their respective bargained contracts.
The accord kept employees on the rolls, minimized class-size increases, and preserved electives. And it has been generally (though not uniformly) praised in the 85,000-student district, located west of Denver.