For many Jeffco teachers, the final bell on the first day of school didn't quite signal the end of the day; rather, it signaled a shift to an impassioned discussion as teachers continued to negotiate with the district over the size of teacher raises.
After school on Aug. 14, members of the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) met with district representatives for their final bargaining session where, following months of disagreement on teacher compensation, the groups drafted a tentative agreement for their contract.
The compromise came after spring negotiations ended on an inconclusive note. While the support professionals union, JESPA, drafted an agreement on May 30 that included a 1.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) to support their salaries, JCEA did not draft an agreement.
JCEA members have maintained a 1.5% COLA would not satisfy Jeffco teachers, many of whom struggle to afford Jeffco rents and some of whom feel they have yet to receive promised reparations after taking pay freezes in the 2010-2011 school year, said JCEA Bargaining Chair Christy Yacano. The freezes were part of a district effort to prevent workforce cuts during the recession.
Negotiations were tabled until August, with both groups hoping to reach an agreement prior to the first 2019-2020 paychecks in September.
Upon returning in August, teachers held they would like to see a 3.5% COLA instead of the 1.5% offered to JESPA.
The group also requested longevity payment for educators who took pay freezes and still work in the district today — some 2,577 individuals by the JCEA's calculations and just under 3,000 by the district's most recent estimate.
By compensating those who stuck out the pay freezes and giving them further incentive to stay in the district, Jeffco Public Schools would be “investing in our students' futures,” Yacano said.
However, Chief Human Resources Officer David Bell said that because the district completely changed its salary schedule following the pay freeze, “about half of those folks make more now than they would have if we had just matured them on the prior salary schedule” — inciting a number of oppositional comments from those in the bargaining session audience.
Standing by his calculation, Bell questioned whether it would be more beneficial to adjust payment only for those who earn less today than they would if the pay freeze had not occurred. To advance each of those individuals a step on the salary schedule would cost the district just under $3 million, he said.
If the district were to advance all 3,000 or so pay freeze teachers, the cost would increase to more than $5 million, which the district cannot afford, he said.
“We are still waiting for dollars from the recession, dollars lost, to move back to the district,” he said. “We're struggling with that as we go forward every day.”
But JCEA bargaining members continued to stress the importance of increasing pay for all such teachers, regardless of their current salaries.
“We can't deny the sacrifices that were made back when (pay was) frozen,” Yacano said.
At the end of the session, the two sides compromised on an annual increase for employees who took pay freezes, which will see about $3 million distributed between the 2,500 to 3,000 employees — with groups estimating each employee's raise will be "higher than $600," Yacano said.
The groups also agreed on a 2.5% COLA instead of a 1.5%.
Additionally, because of language in the district's contract with JESPA, support professionals will receive a 2.5% COLA.
The educators' tentative agreement also paved the way for changes to the educator evaluation process, altered distribution of teacher sick days and lowered the maximum of students in an art, music or PE class from 32 to 30 students, among other changes.
The contract is expected to be ratified by Aug. 21, according to the JCEA.
While JCEA members celebrated the compromise, teachers like Wheat Ridge High social studies teacher Stephanie Rossi emphasized that she still sees room for eventual improvement.
“Members of JCEA are committed to advocating for a long-term funding fix across the state of Colorado,” Rossi said, “but Jeffco also needs to examine its priorities and invest in the hardworking professionals in our district that are dedicated to our students.”
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