February 28, 2011
Collective bargaining between the Colorado Springs Education Association and Colorado Springs School District D-11 continued Monday — in private.
The D-11 board last week had asked the union to open negotiation meetings to the public beginning Monday.
Under the master agreement negotiations are not required to be open unless the boards of both sides agree to waive it. The CSEA board meets today; union officials last week expressed dismay that the district had made the sudden demand without discussion.
Over the weekend, however, union negotiators sent a letter to D-11 negotiators expressing concerns that opening the meetings to the public could result in posturing and politicizing and divert focus “from doing what is right for children.”
“I’m disappointed,” said D-11 board president Tom Strand. “They felt less productive if under public review I guess, and historically such meetings have not been open. But unfortunately, no matter how you say ‘not open’, it doesn’t sound good. Transparency is something we should cling to.”
D-11 officials said they are awaiting the official response from the CSEA board.
Before Monday’s closed negotiating session, Kevin Marshall, president of the 1,600 -member union, said: “I don’t want to speculate on what our board might decide.”
The letter from the union negotiators to their counterparts at D-11 said that they believe negotiations should remain closed “this year” because both teams are in the midst of learning a new form of bargaining called Interest-Based Bargaining.
Both sides recently received training from a mediation company and have just begun to use the system. IBB facilitators suggested to both parties that the meetings be closed until the parties are more proficient at the process, the union said.
In the IBB process everyone at the table gets a chance to discuss common interests in a nonconfrontational way. In traditional negotiations, there are spokespersons who present formal sets of demands.
Under terms of the master agreement, there will be one public meeting in April at which the positions of both sides are laid out for all to see, said Deputy Superintendent Mary Thurman.
“Everyone has to be comfortable before the meetings are opened,” said Thurman, who is head of the D-11 negotiation team. “I think once we talk some more about it, it might be possible in the future.”
This is a big year for negotiations as every provision in the master agreement is on the table for the first time in 16 years. It covers issues such as student discipline, stipends, insurance, post employment benefits and board of education rights.
Only 42 of of 178 districts in the state have collective bargaining. Only one — Poudre School District in Fort Collins — opens negotiations to the public. Poudre administrators say that open sessions have worked well for 15 years.
Only six states guarantee open negotiations. In Colorado, efforts to require them have failed in the Legislature several times, including 2004 and 2005.
D-11 Board member Jan Tanner, who with LuAnn Long, voted Wednesday against the resolution seeking open meetings, said she wanted to see how the new bargaining system worked. She said that she ran into a Poudre administrator at a meeting in Denver Friday who told her in passing that not many community members come to the often dry, drawn out discussions.
“This could all be a tempest in a teapot,” she said.