BOE Stirs Up Controversies

By Brendan Johnson

Behind the scenes in Jeffco Public Schools, teachers and the Board of Education are locked in an intense debate over the recently revised pay scale.

Four years ago, a pay freeze lowered the pay of teachers with the promise of a raise in the future. Now that the four years have passed and the time for the raises to be instituted is here, the BOE is backing a new system for teacher raises. This new system gave teachers raises based on evaluations, whereas the previous system was based on education level and years of teaching experience.Many teachers feel that the new evaluation system is flawed and that it is too easy for a biased opinion to get in the way of an accurate reading of their teaching expertise. During the district’s negotiations with the Jefferson County Educations Association, an independent mediator found declared the evaluation system to be flawed and unfair to teachers. The new system makes it much harder for teachers to get a high score, which teachers see as a way for the BOE to cheat teachers of their deserved pay raises.

The district’s current contract with the teachers is set to end on Aug. 31, and things could get much more tense if a new contract is not settled upon. One of the community’s biggest fears is that teachers will go on strike if the negotiations aren’t settled before that the contract’s expiration date. A strike could possibly set schools back by days or even weeks.
One of the other complaints the teachers have is that the BOE is composed of a conservative majority, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. These members are all supported by the Independence Institute, a conservative think-tank, so many teachers and parents like are wary of biased influences. Witt, Newkirk, and Williams ran their 2013 campaign as a slate in an election that 31% of voters voted in, and this furthers critics’ argument that the BOE is uneven and not on a neutral viewpoint.
To add to the commotion, one of the balancing members of the board, Leslie Dahlkemper has recently announced that she will not be running for reelection to the board in November. Dahlkemper and her colleague Jill Fellman have been praised by the community and teachers since the new BOE majority was elected in November 2013. Now that Dahlkemper has announced “retirement,” many community members have expressed worry that one more conservative member could be elected to the board.
The pressure to resolve the issue is getting more intense as the year goes on, and as the school year comes to a close, the issue seems to loom over the heads of the entire school district.