Jeffco teachers rally for equity, new contract

Union reps join forces to demand more inclusion, higher pay

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/12/21

Cars honked, signs waved and a large banner was draped above a westbound stretch of I-70 as a boisterous group of Jeffco teachers and support staff rallied outside of the Jeffco Public Schools’ …

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Jeffco teachers rally for equity, new contract

Union reps join forces to demand more inclusion, higher pay

Posted

Cars honked, signs waved and a large banner was draped above a westbound stretch of I-70 as a boisterous group of Jeffco teachers and support staff rallied outside of the Jeffco Public Schools’ Golden location May 6 to bring attention to a host of issues.

“What’s Disgusting? Union Busting!”

Those issues included fair pay for Jeffco educators, having the school board recognize the union for the unlicensed pre-K staff and asking for district buy-in to Article 22, which is the Joint Commitment to Racial Educational Equity.

Cory Bissell teaches music at Hackberry Hill Elementary. Through the loud chants of fellow attendees, he said he was there to support colleagues and demand fair pay for all educators in Jeffco.

“That includes teachers, special service providers, custodians, bus drivers, kitchen staff — you name it,” he said. “We’re here to demand fair professional wages and a strong collective bargaining agreement that protects the rights of all of those individuals.”

Union for pre-K licensed staff

Hannah Mauro, an early childhood educator instructional partner at Rose Stein Elementary, had a slightly different agenda. 

“I’m out here with a group of pre-K educators, and we are pushing for the district to recognize us as JESPA (Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association) members,” she said. “Currently, the unlicensed pre-K staff is not recognized as a union even though a majority of the people in our work group want to be recognized.”

She said the district started using more licensed pre-K teachers a few years ago — changing from a model of two unlicensed teachers per room, to a model of one licensed and one unlicensed teacher per room.

Mauro said one of her main concerns is that the new model has displaced a lot of unlicensed pre-K teachers.

According to Chesca Smotherman, UniServ & communications director for the Colorado Education Association, school boards in Colorado have sole decision-making power about whether workers are allowed to join a union.

She said JESPA has been trying to get a meeting with the district in hopes of getting them to approve union membership for pre-K workers, allowing them to collectively bargain over wages and working conditions. 

“What do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Right now!”

Leaders with bullhorns shouted call-and-response chants as marchers including JESPA President Lara Center made their way back to a parking lot at the district’s headquarters to listen to those speaking at the event. Center said her union’s main focus was respect.

“Our people work like two or three jobs, and a lot of them have lost their second or third job during COVID. So, what the district pays people may be their only income, and the cost of everything is going up,” she said. “We went to fact-finding, impasse and mediation (with the district) and what we uncovered was that they did have money for pay increases last year, but they refused to honor them.”

Asked what message she would like to give new Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent, Tracy Dorland, Center said her message would be that the district needs to invest in its human capital.

“We’re the people taking care of your kids,” she said. “We’re the people getting kids back to school, so parents can get back to work. We’re understaffed, and the district doesn’t pay enough to overcome what the private sector is paying people.”

Article 22

The biggest rallying cry of the evening was focused on racial equity and the adoption by the district of contract language known as Article 22 or the Joint Commitment to Racial Educational Equity.

On Feb. 25, the Jefferson County Education Association members brought Article 22 to the bargaining table in contract talks with the District. Among other things, Article 22 calls for increased diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Racial Equity Leadership Council, a system-wide Racial Educational Equity Plan and policy improvements.

According to Smotherman, in the 70 days between the delivery of the document to the district and the May 6 rally, there’s been no response from management at the table.

In her speech to the crowd, JCEA President Brooke Williams said the union needs the new equity language in the collective bargaining agreement as a commitment from the district to address issues of equity and promote the success of all students and educators in Jeffco. She said it’s also a way to hold the district accountable for doing the work (of equity).

“The district needs to eliminate institutional and structural practices and policies that further the inequities among underrepresented groups,” Williams said. “It is unacceptable — and I’m going to cry when I say this — that we only have six African American teachers in our schools. It is unacceptable that we have 30% students of color and only 10% of our educator force are people of color. We want equity in our collective agreement now!”

Williams said JCEA has become tired of the district’s definition of collaboration and wants a true partnership, a seat at the table and to be on district committees.

“JESPA and JCEA are standing together today to tell management it’s time to commit to your educators the way our educators are committed to our students,” she said.

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