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Hicks weighs in on union lawsuit flap

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday waded into the controversy around a possible teachers union lawsuit challenging one part of the state’s educator evaluation law.

In a late-afternoon statement, the governor indicated he feels that efforts to avoid a lawsuit have stalled.

“Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of both parties to work toward a settlement, it is clear that the CEA [Colorado Education Association] feels duty-bound to eventually challenge the constitutionality of SB 191. No amount of further discussion or negotiation or mediation will change that. While we respect the effort that has been underway for the last month to explore settlement options, we are deeply disappointed.”

The governor’s prepared statement was a bit unclear on some points, but top Hickenlooper aide Alan Salazar told EdNews in an interview that basically the governor and his advisors have concluded that CEA feels a constitutional issue involved in the dispute can’t be solved short of a lawsuit.

Given that, Salazar said, the governor would like CEA to declare its intentions before the Nov. 5 vote on Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million income tax increase that’s intended to pay for an overhaul of the way the state funds schools. (See this EdNews story for details on that proposal.)

Doing so, Salazar said, would end the political controversy over the possible lawsuit and the amendment.

The controversy was sparked by a late August legal agreement between CEA, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the Denver Public Schools and the State Board of Education. That agreement extended an Aug. 31 deadline for filing any suit until next Feb. 1.

A lot of the rhetoric swirling around the issue implies that the two unions are planning a full-scale court assault in the evaluation law. In fact, the DCTA-DPS disagreement focuses on one part of the law, the mutual consent provision that requires both principals and teachers to agree to placements in a specific school. The Denver union challenged DPS’ use of mutual consent, and an arbitrator’s “advisory opinion” last year concluded the provision was unconstitutional. The union feels DPS has been using the mutual consent provision of the law to get rid of teachers for budgetary reasons. The constitutional question is whether teachers’ due-process rights have been violated.

There are suspicions among some anti-Amendment 66 commentators and business people that the deadline for filing the lawsuit was extended to avoid bad publicity during the campaign to pass Amendment 66.

CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel said Wednesday night, “We don’t feel discussions are at an end,” and that the unions hope to continue working with DPS to resolve the dispute over the district’s use of the law to remove teachers. Wetzel said he couldn’t speak to the constitutional question raised by Salazar.

“We want to continue talks, and we want to work with DPS to reach an agreement and hopefully stay our of court,” Wetzel said.

He also said CEA does not see a connection between resolving the legal issue and the Amendment 66 vote. “We don’t see it as a related issue.”

Salazar, who is the governor’s top policy advisor, said the timing of Hickenlooper’s statement “is related to the governor’s desire to send a very unambiguous message that he intends to support the reforms of SB 191 and that as voters contemplate the merits of Amendment 66 they don’t view this potential lawsuit as a legitimate reason to oppose Amendment 66.

“It seemed to be better for all concerned to lay out the governor’s point of view,” Salazar said, adding that the governor and his staff also have had private discussions with the parties involved in the flap.

The governor’s statement concluded by saying, “We understand that some may use this lawsuit as a reason to oppose Amendment 66. We respectfully disagree. The best way to protect Colorado’s education reforms is to support Amendment 66 this November.”

Get more details on the twists and turns of the controversy in this article.

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