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Commentary: Where's the rest of the Dougco school survey?

Ben DeGrow is a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute, focusing on education labor issues.

After suffering the sting of defeat in last year’s school board elections, Douglas County union officials and a disaffected vocal minority of community members have launched an aggressive campaign to defame the sitting board. It’s perfectly their right to call into questions any actions of their elected officials with which they disagree. But they also set themselves out to be held accountable for the information they purvey. There have been at least two major fronts to union officials’ campaign.

First, their allies manipulated the Denver Post to make it look like the board is callously hoarding district funds to harm students and employees intentionally. Really? DCSD’s clearly laid out budget facts strongly belie the accusation. It would be interesting to review previous years’ fund balances from the district to see the context of current budgetary decisions. I have a hard time believing the opposition wouldn’t make hay of the board’s actions had they irresponsibly spent district reserves into oblivion.

Second, as covered in EdNews, AFT officials and other critics seized on a union-sponsored survey that showed low employee morale to hurl invective at the board. The attacks were sprung in ambush fashion, questioning the lip service some groups give to a spirit of “collaboration.”

Perhaps most telling is this single line from Nancy Mitchell’s story:

[Union president] Smith said Augenblick {the group contracted to perform the survey} is continuing to sort through the responses to the open-ended questions contained in the survey and more details will be available within the next two weeks.

The survey has been assailed for its lack of security, allowing users from anywhere to go online and vote as many times as they want. The non-scientific questionnaire represents a shaky foundation for the claims that district employee morale is suffering dramatically. More than three weeks after the survey’s unveiling, the two-week promised window to release the internal data appears to have escaped down the memory hole. Maybe they’re just interested in flinging random tidbits in hopes that something will stick to the wall.

The showdown has become more than an honest disagreement about the board’s groundbreaking Choice Scholarship Program, currently under legal injunction. We’ve seen union leaders open up the textbook of strident radical tactics in recent weeks. It carries much more the whiff of desperation than the look of prudence. The frontal ambush at the January 18 meeting could cause the board either to: a) Cower in fear from a campaign of misinformation and distortion, or b) Stiffen their spines and press forward.

The second option might include a good faith demand to have the union air its negotiation-room positions before interested teachers, parents and other community members. A grassroots Douglas County parents group is circulating a petition to call for open negotiations, while a bill to require transparent bargaining in Colorado school districts (HB 1118) comes before a house committee in less than two weeks.

Maybe the board could better publicize the hundreds of thousands of cuts they have made from recently discovered tax-funded contributions to employees working on leave for the union.

While neither option that union leaders have forced on the Board promises to make things easygoing in the district for the near future, here’s hoping for a little more balanced presentation of ongoing events in Douglas County.

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