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Dougco: State intervention not warranted

Douglas County School District leaders are opposing state intervention in its labor dispute with the district teachers union, saying it doesn’t threaten public education in the high-performing district south of Denver.

“The resolution of these disputes is likely to have no discernible effect upon any parties beyond those at the negotiating table,” Brian Mumaugh, an attorney at Holland & Hart, wrote on the district’s behalf in a letter Friday to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The letter is in response to a June 18 request for the department’s intervention from the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, which represents about 70 percent of Dougco teachers. The federation also represents some 30 percent of classified or clerical staff in the district.

Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the state labor department, said Friday that officials have yet to rule on the union’s request.

Mumaugh, in his letter, notes the criteria that the labor department must consider in deciding whether to intervene is whether a dispute “affects the public interest.”

But he also notes that there are not “factors, guidelines, considerations, rules or standards” defining what that means. He argues, in fact, that a decision to intervene would violate the district’s right to local control as outlined in the Colorado Constitution.

“Indeed, merely ordering the parties that the parties engage in voluntary arbitration, mediation or conciliation would unconstitutionally interfere” with the district’s authority, he writes, adding, “Your office also lacks the statutory and constitutional authority to order that the terms of the now-expired collective bargaining agreements … be somehow resurrected.”

In closing, the letter states, “If your office assumes jurisdiction, the district is prepared to challenge your action on all appropriate grounds.”

The federation’s collective bargaining agreement with the district expired June 30, making Dougco the largest district in Colorado in which teachers are working without a union contract. Union leaders, who have negotiated agreements in the district for 40 years, claim that was the goal of the conservative school board.

District leaders, in the letter, say “the outside legal fees and internal staff costs” incurred in responding to the union’s “meritless requests” have now exceeded the $55,000 average annual salary for a teacher in the district.

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