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Business groups challenge CEA on potential lawsuit

Leaders of seven business groups wrote to the Colorado Education Association Friday, urging the union to “to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit” against a provision of the state’s landmark educator effectiveness and evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191.

CEA issued a statement saying, “The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand.”

The letter is the latest development in a slowly simmering controversy over a recent decision to extend the deadline for CEA and its affiliate, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, to file a lawsuit challenging part of the law, if they choose to do so.

Those two groups, plus potential defendants the Denver school board and the State Board of Education, agreed last month to extend the filing deadline from Aug. 31 to next February 1. (EdNews was the first to report the delay; see this story.)

Since then there have been charges by Amendment 66 opponents and conservative commentators that the delay was engineered to avoid bad publicity during the campaign to pass Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 tax increase.

Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll raised that idea in a recent column, and a scathing editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette this week made the same charge under the headline “Deception key to new education tax increase.”

However, it’s hardly been a secret that the unions, particularly the DCTA, were unhappy with the mutual consent provision of the law, which 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. (Unlike other provisions of SB 10-191, which are still being rolled out, mutual consent went into effect as soon as the bill was signed.) It’s been widely assumed in education circles that a union lawsuit was possible. (Get more background in this EdNews story.)

Highlights of the letter

The business groups’ letter reads in part: “This pending lawsuit puts educator effectiveness at risk, leading you and our partners into unproductive territory that ultimately will greatly challenge our efforts to improve schools. Throwing up legal roadblocks and delaying implementation of this important statute does nothing to improve the effectiveness of our teachers, strengthen teacher and student performance, or expand the horizons of students. … Voters will decide this fall whether to fund these positive changes via Amendment 66; however, your recent actions have put a foundational piece of the reform agenda in jeopardy, and we urge you to drop this ill-conceived and disruptive lawsuit.”

Only at the end of the letter do the signers refer to the speculation about lawsuit delay. “We have been pleased to work with you in the past on many education initiatives and are ready to do so again. As a first step, we ask you to waive your legal challenge over the mutual consent provisions of SB 191 and join us in a public statement to reaffirm our shared commitment to implementing the core principles of SB 191 statewide with fidelity. But, if you are not willing to do that, Coloradans deserve to know now, not next year, that you are turning to the courts to undercut positive school reform.”

What CEA said

In response, here’s the text of the CEA statement:

“The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has been trying to work collaboratively with the Denver Public Schools district to find an alternate resolution to the problem of Senate Bill 191 implementation for two years. It is difficult for those who haven’t been part of the complex and intricate discussions between DCTA and DPS to have a clear picture of the nature of our disagreement and our objective of ensuring quality, veteran teachers are not displaced from Denver classrooms.

“Since passage of SB-191, the Colorado Education Association has been focused on implementing the law in a way that lives up to its stated objective: to give public school students the best possible classroom teachers. How best to accomplish that is at the heart of the dispute between DCTA and DPS. Keeping the best teachers with demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom is in the best interest of students, and CEA has a moral and professional obligation to ensure this is every district’s priority as the educator effectiveness evaluation system is implemented across the state.

“CEA and DPS signed a tolling agreement [the delay in the filing deadline] to allow more time for conversations and discussions to take place. This means that both sides agree to commit to action in an attempt to stay out of the courts. The quickest and most productive way to bring a resolution is it to continue quality conversation between DCTA and DPS, and we look forward to mediation and the opportunity to find a collaborative solution that is best for students.

“The work of getting SB-191 implementation done right does not lend itself to the quick resolution the writers of this letter demand. But we will continue to have diligent and intensive discussions that hopefully lead to the collaborative outcome that ultimately benefits the children and families of Denver.”

Who signed the business groups’ letter

Signing the business groups’ letter were representatives of Colorado Concern, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, as well as two regional groups, Action 22 and Progressive 15. Also signing were co-chairs Bob Diebel and Al Timothy of Colorado Succeeds, a business group that focuses on education issues and generally supports the education changes that would be partly funded by Amendment 66.

While numerous individual executives have endorsed Amendment 66, business groups generally has remained neutral, notably the Denver Metro Chamber. A few, such as the South Metro chamber, are opposed. (See this list of individual and other endorsements on the website of Colorado Commits to Kids, the main support group.)

Business hesitancy around Amendment 66 is primarily generated by the fact that the measure would modify Colorado’s current flat income tax rate with a two-step system. The amendment would raise the individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000, and income above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. Small business owners who file taxes as individuals would pay the new rates, something that also concerns some business groups.

Read the letter here.

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