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GOP heartburn over union chief nomination

There are few things more routine in the state Senate than nominations to state college trustee boards, but there’s a controversy every now and then.

Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left
Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left

One of those popped up Thursday in the Senate Education Committee when it considered the nomination of Tony Salazar to the University of Northern Colorado trustees.

Salazar is executive director of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and an organization that’s not popular among GOP lawmakers. The CEA’s various political arms are longtime and substantial contributors to Democratic legislative and statewide candidates. Salazar is a familiar figure in the Capitol because of prior service as a union lobbyist.

There were no fireworks or harsh accusations during the 20-minute discussion, but two GOP senators politely made it clear they weren’t comfortable with Salazar.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, who represents a Greeley-area district, pointed out that Salazar doesn’t have any northern Colorado ties and wondered if Salazar’s job wasn’t a conflict of interest. Noting that K-12 and higher education often compete for scarce state support, Renfroe asked, “How can you represent the teachers … and not do that at the expense of higher education? … I see a real conflict.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to reassure you,” Salazar said, adding, “I’m wearing a different hat when I’m a trustee.”

Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, picked up the theme, saying separating the two roles “would seem to be difficult. … I usually give great deference to the governor’s picks, but this one quite legitimately concerns me. This is troubling.”

Salazar, flanked by UNC President Kay Norton, said he considers his background “actually a value add to the board.” UNC is one of the state’s largest teacher training institutions but also offers a wide variety of other majors and degrees.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, came to Salazar’s defense, saying, “We’re all asked to balance our day jobs against our board service.”

Johnston also praised the rest of the UNC board for doing that.

“I feel like your expertise and background and skill will make you a great fit.”

Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort is chair of the UNC trustees. President Norton is married to Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, a Republican former state Senate president. (See the full list of trustees here.)

The committee’s five Democrats outvoted four Republicans to send the Salazar nomination to the full Senate.

Parent involvement bill moves on

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster – File photo
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster – File photo

Senate Education had a long warm-up to the Salazar discussion with a nearly two-hour hearing on Senate Bill 13-193, a measure designed to strengthen the roles of school and district parent accountability committees and of the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education, known by the acronym “SACPIE.”

Among other things, the bill proposes to give school committees a role in creation of school improvement plans under the state’s accountability and rating system. The measure also proposes funding for a parent involvement staff person at the Colorado Department of Education.

A long list of witnesses, including SACPIE members, supported the bill and the value of parent involvement in schools. But others, primarily those with school district ties, suggested the bill be tweaked so as not to impose too many duties on volunteer panels filled by busy parents.

Some committee members wondered why the bill is needed.

“Is there anything preventing them from implementing any of these changes without the bill?” asked Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

The often-voluble Hudak launched into a lengthy defense of the bill, and the measure finally was passed 5-3, along with three amendments to soften it up a bit.

Johnston, who as vice chair ran the meeting while Hudak presented her bill, couldn’t help poking a little fun at her. At one point he humorously warned Hill about asking Hudak yet another question. And at another point he joked, “A SACPIE is not something you’ve stepped in.”

Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff summary. Next stop for the measure is the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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