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Colorado Education Association lawsuit seeks to undo reforms

January 28, 2014 Updated: January 29, 2014 at 7:09 am

The Colorado Education Association is announcing a highly anticipated lawsuit Wednesday that will challenge parts of education reforms put into place by lawmakers in 2010.

According to a media release from the CEA, the litigation will address "proven flaws in the mutual consent provision of Senate Bill 10-191 that allows school districts to remove qualified teachers from the classroom."

While nothing has been filed in court, the lawsuit likely will be on behalf of teachers from Denver Public Schools who lost their jobs after the district introduced a pilot program based on Senate Bill 10-191, also known as SB191.

The statute of limitations for those dismissed teachers to file suit was rapidly approaching in August when the State Board of Education voted to extend the deadline to be sued - a decision that was first reported by The Gazette. That vote was met with backlash by some who feared the board was avoiding a contentious issue before voters decided on a $1 billion education tax increase.

A spokesman for the CEA has said in previous interviews those teachers were not dismissed due to poor performance, as was intended in SB191, but because of budget cuts needed in the district.

Those teachers were then unable to find jobs at other schools in the district using a "mutual consent" policy, leaving them unemployed.

But Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the Denver Post that the mutual consent principal is key.

"Forced placement of teachers is wrong," Boasberg was quoted as saying in the Post. "It's wrong for students, it's wrong for teachers and it's wrong for schools. Nobody benefits when a teacher is placed in a school that does not want them."

Among other things, SB191 implements a new high-stakes teacher evaluation system that is based in part on student performance and test scores.

The evaluation system allows for the dismissal of tenured teachers when performance is low and for other reasons. That teacher can only be placed in a new school if there is mutual consent between the school principal and the teacher.

School districts across the state began implementing the legislation - following in DPS' footsteps - during the 2013-14 school year.

The deadline to file a lawsuit was extended to Feb. 1. Some speculated at the time that the move might have been to prevent a lawsuit from being filed before voters decided last November on Amendment 66 - a proposed $1 billion tax increase for public education. But members of the Board of Education emphasized they wanted to let SB191 be implemented at more school districts before it faced a legal challenge in court.

Voters defeated Amendment 66 with 64 percent of the vote. The proposal would have increased income taxes and generated additional funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

Amendment 66 promised to help fund some of the reforms that were passed in 2010 under SB191.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his staff attempted to mediate the dispute between the teacher's union and Denver Public Schools but negotiations quickly fell apart.

Hickenlooper warned the failure could jeopardize public opinion of Amendment 66.

More details about the lawsuit will be available after a 1 p.m. meeting Wednesday at the Colorado Education Association.

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