Gov. Romer Unveils Teachers’ Contract For Denver Schools

By Ann Bradley — April 03, 1991 6 min read

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado last week unveiled a new contract for Denver teachers that would abolish many traditional protections in exchange forgiving teachers unusually wide decisionmaking latitude in each of the city’s schools.

The Governor, who intervened in the Denver labor negotiations in January to prevent a threatened strike, wrote the contract after conducting a series of hearings to examine the issues separating the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the city school board.

In invoking a 1915 Colorado labor law that he claimed gave him the authority to settle the dispute, the Governor thrust himself into the unprecedented position of hammering out a teaching contract at the cutting edge of education reform.

Although both the teachers’ union and the school board plan to vote on whether to accept the contract, Mr. Romer said last week in an interview that teachers would have to strike and the board would have to sue him to prevent the four-year contract from taking effect.

The Governor, who presented the contract at a public meeting March 27, said it “sets up a clean line of responsibility and accountability between the schools and the district.”

“We said to teachers, ‘You don’t have to have 120 pages of micromanaging detail in the labor contract to protect your rights, because you’re inside making those decisions,”’ he said. “It’s a bold step, I think it’s needed, and I have great hopes that it will make a difference in education.”

During negotiations last fall, the board initially sought to replace the district’s 128-page teaching contract with a streamlined statement of board policy that would have given the district greater authority over teacher transfers, hiring, and the length of the workday. (See Education Week, Dec. 5, 1990.)

The union balked at the district’s approach and pressed instead for greater decisionmaking at the school level, backed up by protections contained in the contract.

Edward J. Garner, president of the school board, said the new contract would be “a basis for real reform in this district.”

The reactions from Superintendent of Schools Evie Dennis and Rae Garrett, president of the D.C.T.A., were more muted.

“I have not had a chance to review it,” Ms. Dennis said. “Whatever it is, is probably better than what we had.”

Ms. Garrett said union negotiators were combing through the 65-page document to make a recommendation to the city’s 4,000 teachers.

“There are things we hadn’t thought of before, that are brand new and have not been seen in contracts before,” Ms. Garrett said. “It’s real different--it could be threatening, or it could be a real opportunity.”

The centerpiece of the contract is the creation of “collaborative decisionmaking committees” in each of Denver’s 110 schools.

The panels would be made up of the principal, four teachers, three parents, a classified employee, two students in the high schools, and a business representative drawn from Denver’s major employers.

The committees would be given sweeping authority to determine the scheduling of time within the workweek, instructional issues, the school budget, instructional support, the structure of the curriculum and how to implement it, the school climate, security and upkeep of the building, community relationships, and faculty selection.

Specifically delegated to the school board would be setting the school calendar, collective bargaining, implementing court-ordered desegregation plans, taxation and budget issues, determining the curriculum framework and desired outcomes, evaluation, maintenance and construction, food services, central purchasing, and transportation.

The committees would make decisions by consensus, not by voting, and the principal would have the authority to make final decisions when a consensus could not be reached.

Larger “improvement councils” would be set up in the district’s four administrative areas to help the schools learn to make decisions and to provide technical assistance and training.

Committee members who were unhappy with decisions could file “dissenting reports” with the central councils and the superintendent.

But the decisions made by the panels would not be subject to the grievance procedures contained in the contract.

All teachers would work 40-hour weeks under the new contract, rather than the previous 37.5 hours.

In contrast to school-based-management bodies in many large districts, the Denver committees would have broad authority to determine issues that normally are contained in teaching contracts.

One such issue would be the organization of the school week, including instructional time, preparation and planning time, lunch time, contact time with students, the length and number of classes to be taught, and the number of times teachers would be required to meet with parents.

Denver’s current teaching contract, for example, specifies that teachers can only be asked to meet after school with parents for two nights during the year, Mr. Romer noted.

Lawrence Sorensen, regional director of the Western states for the National Education Association, said the contract appears to “invest far greater authority and latitude, in terms of the nature and scope of what these councils can address,” than is typical in other districts.

“My initial impression is very favorable,” he added.

Principals, who were recently placed on one-year contracts, would be evaluated by the superintendent with feedback from the school committees. Central-office administrators also would be evaluated annually, based on their service to the schools.

Teachers would be evaluated every two years, instead of every three years, although the contract “encourages annual appraisals,” an executive summary of the document states.

In addition to their other powers, school committees would play a central role in hiring teachers. Personnel subcommittees, made up of the principal and three teachers, would screen applicants and decide together which teachers to hire and which to transfer out of the school.

In making such decisions, principals would have one vote, and the bloc of teachers would have one vote.

The new process would significantly reduce the role of seniority in hiring decisions. While the two most senior job applicants would have to be interviewed, the school would not be required to hire them. The contract also would abolish the previous point system used to determine such matters.

Any districtwide layoffs, however, would be based strictly on seniority.

The contract, which would be retroactive to Jan. 1, would give teachers 3.5 percent raises each year for four years. Half of the approximately $30 million would be applied to the salary schedule in a flat dollar amount; the other half would be given as percentage raises.

The Governor said he chose such a structure to improve beginning teachers’ salaries while preserving the gains made by more senior teachers.

In addition to raising beginning teachers’ salaries next year, the district also would have to contribute $100,000 to an “incentive fund” that would be distributed to high-achieving schools and allocated by their committees.

The contract also calls for the establishment of another pot of money by 1993 that would be used by schools to reward teachers based on their performance.

Susan Pearce, president of the Denver Council P.T.S.A., said she was “very pleased” with the increased parent and teacher involvement, but cautioned that personnel committees likely would not be ready to go immediately to work to meet next month’s deadline for posting positions.

Tom Jenkins, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, said he was disappointed that the contract would preserve seniority in cases where teachers must be laid off. Such a policy, he said, would damage the district’s efforts to increase the ratio of minority teachers.

Mr. Jenkins said he also had hoped the contract would contain an education and training process to increase the participation of minority parents in schools.

The Governor said the new contract would require the “creative talent and energy” of both teachers and parents to succeed.

“I want everybody to look down the street,” Mr. Romer said, “and see that school building and say, ‘That’s ours, we are responsible for it.”’

A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 1991 edition of Education Week as Gov. Romer Unveils Teachers’ Contract For Denver Schools