Protesters at D-11 board meeting demand open union talks

CAROL MCGRAW Updated: March 9, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: March 9, 2011

About two dozen people gathered outside the Colorado Springs School District 11 administration building Wednesday evening in protest of closed negotiations with the teachers union.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, organized the protest.

"There should be open meetings," said William Rusnic, whose two children attend McAuliffe Elementary School. "It's the future of my kids."

Roberta Millard held up a sign that said: "Openness, Communications, Accountability."

The protesters crowded into the  D-11 board of education meeting. Security officers would not allow them to bring their signs into the room.

Board member Bob Null was not fazed by the protest. "I love citizen involvement as long as it is respectful. It's vital," he said before the meeting began.

During the public comment period, speakers on both sides of the issue gave statements.

Bruce Cole, a teacher and member of the Colorado Springs Education Association, told the board, "even Jesus needed an executive session with his disciples."

Jeff Crank, Colorado director of AFP, called the rally a "demonstration of the importance of transparency" and said he would continue to push for open negotiations because taxpayers money was at stake.

Collective bargaining for decades has been private in D-11, and closed negotiations are included in the master agreement for 2010-2011. Both sides would have to waive that part of the agreement for meetings to open.

However, Crank challenged the idea that decisions were being driven by the master agreement, which he says both sides violated by not holding the first meeting in open session.

The school board recently voted 5-2 to ask the union to make collective bargaining open to taxpayers.

CSEA nixed the idea, saying it would compromise negotiations. Also, some felt that there would be grandstanding, and it would make negotiators more guarded and less open to new ideas.

CSEA President Kevin Marshall told the board Wednesday that  the private negotiations Monday gave him renewed faith that the sides will come to a decisions of mutual  benefit to D-11 and the union. He said the talks were "collaborative, creative, concerning children and responsible."   

Crank's organization had last week called for the D-11 board to boycott negotiations until the doors were opened.

The board met in a closed meeting on Friday, but no votes were taken. Board PresidentTom Strand said Wednesday that  D-11 and the union will continue talking about possibility of opening meetings.

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