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No progress in Dougco talks (Updated)

Updated 4 p.m. – Dougco district and union leaders were unable to resolve key issues in today’s last-ditch effort to agree on a contract by June 30.

With no new negotiations scheduled, it’s likely teachers in the state’s third-largest school district will be without a collective bargaining agreement on July 1.

The two sides locked on the same topics – compensation, dues deduction, exclusivity of the union to act on behalf of teachers – as they have in previous months of public talks.

Union leaders presented new proposals in some areas but seemed frustrated when the district’s lead negotiator, administrator Dan McMinimee, said he needed to take the proposals back to school board members.

District negotiators said the union’s proposals on compensation were too expensive.

The two sides are 1 percent apart on pay and disagree about where the money for increases will come from.

Check back later today for more on this story.

Today’s original story begins here:

Douglas County school district and teachers union leaders return to the bargaining table at noon today in a last-ditch effort to come up with a collective bargaining agreement before the current contract expires this weekend.

If they’re unable to come to terms, Dougco would be the largest school district in Colorado in which teachers are working without a negotiated contract. It would also mark the first time that Dougco teachers haven’t had a collective bargaining agreement in 40 years.

This year, district and union leaders agreed to public contract talks and there has been plenty of back-and-forth between the two sides, in negotiations, in messages and in the media. District leaders have identified three key issues for today’s session, which also appear – along with others – in the union’s letter to the state asking for intervention.

That request for intervention still stands, and the state Department of Employment and Labor has yet to make a ruling. Here are the identified top issues, along with excerpts from both sides, facing negotiators:

Exclusivity of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers

Dougco district leaders want to change the language of the current collective bargaining agreement to reflect that the federation is “a” bargaining agent for teachers and not “the exclusive” bargaining agent.

“To be clear, we are asking for choice for our teachers … you are asking for a monopoly,” the district wrote in its June 12 negotiations message.

Union leaders pointed out that the federation represents some 70 percent of Dougco teachers and that the district recently granted an exclusive contract to the bus drivers’ union.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” the union responded in a June 21 message to the district.

Union communications with members and the public

In its original contract proposal, the district asked the union for three days’ notice for all school visits, meetings, letters to employees, postings and any/all direct communication with employees.

They also asked the union not to spread “misinformation” about the board, superintendent, district leadership “or other district matters.”

Union leaders responded with proposed language in which both sides agree to “improve communication and distribute accurate information within the district and between the district and the DCFT.”

That’s not enough for district leaders, who claim the union continues to spread “twisted facts” about the district budget. They want union leaders to provide specific examples of the steps they’ll take to provide “positive, accurate” information.

“The union will not agree to any restrictions on its ability to communicate with its members and the public,” the federation responded in its June 21 message. “Both sides should exercise tolerance and understanding that they may not share the same point of view on important issues.”

Compensation and changes in pay structure

The district has offered a 1 percent ongoing raise and a 1 percent retention bonus for teachers who signed individual contracts to return to the district by June 15. Teachers also would work an additional day, albeit without students.

The union is asking for an additional 1 percent ongoing raise after several years of pay freezes. District leaders say they cannot afford it.

“This would require the district to commit to and recommend deficit spending until we either secure a new revenue source and/or cut our schools to fund the increase,” the district wrote June 12. “We must plan ongoing budgets that allow us to live within our means.”

Union leaders say they’ve identified savings within the district’s budget to fund the additional 1 percent. District officials disagree.

For example, the union notes there’s money set aside for the district’s longtime pay-for-performance plan, which has been on hold. District officials want to use that money for select employees as they “build out” a new pay-for-performance plan in 2012-13.

In addition, the district wants to phase out traditional raises for additional years of service and advanced college credits, as well as “severance” bonuses given when veteran employees leave. Union leaders, in their June 21 message, say they don’t oppose those plans so long as it results in “a cost neutral allocation of teacher compensation funds.”

Possible additional issues – dues deductions, employee status

District leaders are no longer willing to deduct union dues from teachers’ paychecks, expressing concerns that some of those dues are later used by union leadership for political activity. Union leaders balked in negotiations, noting they’ve paid for the service, but later conceded, according to a June 21 letter to members.

“We conceded issues we believe are important to ensure that a settlement would be reached,” the letter states, identifying the dues deduction as one of those concessions.

But other documents indicate the issue is still in dispute. In its request for state intervention, the union lists dues deduction among disputed topics. And in her June 21 message to the district, union president Brenda Smith points out the district agreed to dues deduction for its bus drivers’ union.

“The district has articulated no legally cognizable justification for this discrimination,” she said. “It should agree to allow the teachers the same rights as other employees in the district.”

District leaders also no longer want to categorize union leaders such as Smith, who left the classroom to lead the federation, as district employees.

Union leaders say they’ve agreed to reimburse the district for the full cost of compensation so “the district’s position can only be intended … to punish individuals for choosing to be active in the union.”

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