With the Board of Education adopting its budget on June 6, district leaders and members of district unions — the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) and Jeffco Educational Support …
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With the Board of Education adopting its budget on June 6, district leaders and members of district unions — the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) and Jeffco Educational Support Professionals Association (JESPA) — have put in hours of discussion around school staff members’ contract for the coming school year.
However, by the end of the six-hour May 29 bargaining session between the district and the JCEA, the groups had not come to an agreement on the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, that will be added to staff member salaries.
A COLA would combine with the raises staff members receive for advancing along the district’s salary schedule, as well as raises associated with the passage of measure 5A, to make up each staff member’s total raise for the 2019-2020 school year.
While the district has held that the budget only allows for a .67 or 1.5% COLA, JCEA members feel a 5% COLA would be more reasonable, said Christy Yacano, JCEA bargaining chair.
“Part of investing in our students’ futures is keeping experienced teachers who understand our communities,” Yacano said. “Looking around at other districts and the COLAs they’re getting, we need to be more competitive.”
Members on both JCEA and JESPA bargaining teams have suggested that the district should consider taking money from its reserves to fund a higher COLA.
Unable to come to an agreement, the district and JCEA members have scheduled a follow-up bargaining session for early August. Bargaining members acknowledged that this would require the Board of Education to revise its budget in August, as the board will adopt the budget on June 6.
In the meantime, at a May 30 session, JESPA bargaining team members agreed to have a 1.5% COLA drafted into their negotiated agreement, meaning the group will not have to bargain again after the summer.
“The district agreed to language that they would honor a higher COLA if another employee group agrees on a higher percentage,” said Sharleen Farmer, JESPA executive director.
She added that JESPA members are excited about other agreements the groups reached, including the decision to increase the starting salary for support professionals.
“We think it will help with employee shortages,” she said. “Since we had our whole contract up for negotiation here, we felt we would be at a good place with this.”
In the meantime, the JCEA will continue to bargain for a COLA greater than 1.5%, Yacano said — an increase that, if agreed upon, would be reflected for all district employees in the district’s revised budget.
Though the district and unions have asked the district to modify its budget similar reasons in previous years, Yacano said, this is the first time the situation has occurred in her four years on the bargaining team.
“It’s not necessarily unusual, but we’re getting dangerously close to the end of the contract year in August,” she said.
If the groups cannot come to a decision by the time staff members receive their first paychecks at the end of September, those employees will receive the same amount they received in the 2018-2019 school year, she said.
She added that the district and union could opt to go to an impasse, which would allow a mediator to help make the decision. In this case, the bargaining team would be asked to prove that the district has the money to fund their requests; the district would be asked to prove that it does not have the money.
“We’re determined not to go to impasse,” Yacano said. “Either the money’s there or it’s not. We think we can get this resolved.”
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