Conflict in Jeffco schools deeper than concern about AP History curriculum review

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Teachers in Jefferson County have staged sick-outs where schools have had to cancel classes for a day because there weren’t enough teachers to open.

They’re in a conflict with the school board over the teacher pay structure. It’s a bigger, broader issue than the review of AP History curriculum that has also garnered attention in the district.

A lot of the talk in the student and teacher walk-outs is over the AP History controversy. But only 1,400 students out of 85,000 students in Jefferson County Schools actually take that course. Both sides acknowledge these walk-outs are part of a deeper conflict between the teachers’ union and the new school board members.

At the heart of the disagreement is a new system for determining how much Jeffco teachers get paid. Salaries had been frozen since 2010. Then, earlier this month, the school board voted three to two to adopt a merit pay-based system.

The teachers’ union was backing the traditional pay scale based on years of experience and increased education. “We passed a new compensation program that ensures we are rewarding and recognizing our effective teachers,” says school board president Ken Witt.

He points out more than 95 percent of the district’s teachers will get a pay raise under the merit system. That’s hundreds more than would have received a raise under the union proposal. The minimum salary will be increased by as much as 13 percent under the merit pay system.

The problem arises because teachers say an independent fact finder determined the evaluation system might not be fair. “It’s not fair, it’s not equitable, it’s not right. Do the old system for one more year and let’s work together on this,” says Jeffco teacher Tammie Peters. “And the school board majority decided to ignore the advice.”

“There is certainly some disagreement over setting aside the union backed program and choosing the one that directly rewards our teachers based on performance,” Witt says.

Caught in the middle … Superintendent Dan McMinimee. The school board recently hired him. His concern is stopping the sick-outs. “We’re all adults. We can work through these issues without taking away a day of learning for the students,” he says.

The district’s contract with the teachers’ union runs out next summer. Both sides are concerned about how the conflict will affect those talks.

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