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Jefferson County teachers on contract: We don’t know how we’ll vote

Paula Rutan, an English teacher at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood, doesn’t know how she’ll vote on a proposed teacher contract between the Jefferson County school district and teachers union.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to bother,” she said, explaining her frustration with both the school board and the Jefferson County Education Association. “We’ve gotten into the middle of nothingness.”

Rutan’s discontent with the tentative agreement reached earlier this month is shared by many Jeffco Public Schools teachers.

Teachers will begin voting to ratify the contract, which has been celebrated by union critics, Friday evening after they hear from JCEA leadership.

Online voting will end at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The contract has a heavy emphasis on school-based decisions, drastically scales back the historic partnership between the school district and union, and would last for 10 months.

The last point appears to be a sticking point for teachers.

“The 10-month limit is my biggest concern,” wrote Golden High School teacher Tammie Peters in a Facebook comment. “It shows complete disrespect for teachers. Even if, for some reason, it makes some sort of financial sense to end-date it in June, it could have been a year and 10 months or two years and 10 months.”

For Standley Lake High School teacher John Moriarty, the question is whether the contract’s short shelf life outweighs the protections he said he believes the contract offers.

“Ultimately, I’ll probably end up voting yes,” he said. “Without it we wouldn’t be able to protect class size for students. And I think that’s what’s best for kids. And it’s good that we had some protections and academic freedom held in the contract which I think is pretty important.”

A simple majority of union members must approve the contract language to send it to the Jeffco school board, which has signaled support for the deal.

“I think it’s well written,” school board member Julie Williams said Friday. “I guess we have to see how the teachers feel about it. And we’ll go from there. I think it is good. It was a mutual, respectful process. I’m happy they were able to come up with it. I hope they do ratify it.”

If the union does not ratify the contract, a new bargaining team will be assembled and ask district representatives for an emergency bargaining session. If the union does ratify the contract but the board does not, the two sides would likely enter non-binding arbitration and the union would seek a temporary extension of the current contract, said Scott Kwasny, JCEA’s spokesman.

However, Kwasny stressed that union leadership would need to decide on next steps if a new contract isn’t in place by Sept. 1.