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EDITORIAL: New initiative would ensure transparency in education

By: The Gazette editorial
June 26, 2014 Updated: June 26, 2014 at 9:30 am
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The public's business should be conducted in public. This common-sense traditional American value gets lost on most leaders of teachers unions, who prefer to strike deals with school boards behind closed doors.

In Colorado, 80 percent of public schools hold binding negotiations with school boards, and nearly all do so in secret. It's not good for teachers, students or taxpayers. It mostly makes life easier for union leaders and their lawyers, who don't want public scrutiny.

The battle raged locally just three years ago, when the Colorado Springs Education Association fought the District 11 school board's efforts to open negotiations for the benefit of the public, students and teachers. Defenders of open government prevailed only after heated meetings, a lawsuit, pickets in the parking lot and a groundswell of public pressure in support of the board's transparency plan.

Similar struggles have played out throughout the state, most recently with high-profile showdowns in Jefferson and Douglas Counties.

Four legislative efforts to open negotiations have failed over the past decade, mostly because unions are adept at influencing state politicians. So a group concerned with more open government is taking it to voters, a majority of whom don't answer to teachers unions.

Initiative 124, sponsored by Colorado's Independence Institute, would ensure transparency in public school governance for all Coloradans. It would, quite simply, subject contract negotiations to Colorado's open meetings law. Petitions are circulating to get the measure on November's ballot. If the measure is passed, Colorado would join 11 other states that have taken steps toward union/school board transparency.

Polling on the proposal shows 61 percent of Coloradans would vote yes and only 15 percent would oppose it. The Independence Institute claims open process would:

- Afford all parties with a stake in the process - parents, teachers, students and other taxpayers - the option of keeping an eye on negotiations.

- Ensure parents the ability to discern how proposed policies for the classroom and teachers may affect their children.

- Shed light on employee salaries and benefits, which typically comprise about 80 percent of a public school's expenditures. This should benefit those who think salaries are too high and those who think they are too low.

Greg Romberg, a lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition the initiative "would give the public an understanding of what the issues are and how the decisions are made." It's important, he said, because collective bargaining contracts involve "a huge amount of public money."

The measure would not establish a public option to speak out during negotiations or participate in them. It merely protects the public's right to listen and watch. It also stops short of granting public access to closed sessions in which school boards and unions determine their separate negotiation strategies.

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers' Association, told the Colorado Statesman his organization opposes the initiative because public pressure often impedes agreements.

In other words, the union wants to keep secret those elements of negotiations the public may not like. Which is exactly why we need this initiative. Our public schools are not funded for the benefit of union leaders. They are to benefit children in a manner that advances individuals and society.

Sign the petition and vote for initiative 124. It will only strengthen our schools. It is pro teacher, pro student, pro school and pro taxpayer.

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