Colorado initiative seeks to open teacher union negotiations


By Arthur Kane |

A Denver-based think tank is asking voters to pry open teachers union negotiations so taxpayers can see how Colorado schools are spending the majority of their tax money.

“Secrecy is the enemy of good government,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank. “The contracts between the union and the district — the collective bargaining agreement — are about 85 percent of a school’s budget. It shows how teachers will teach and how taxpayers’ money is spent.”

OPEN DOORS: Independence Institute president Jon Caldara is pushing a ballot proposition to open school collective bargaining meetings

But Mike Wetzel, spokesman for the Colorado Education Association, said the union opposes Proposition 104 because it takes away local control and is written so poorly it could be interpreted to require public meetings when teachers and school administrators discuss snow days.

“It could cause a lot of headaches and frustration to work through its requirements,” he said, adding he wishes educators were brought in to help craft the language.

The ballot’s title reads:

“Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring any meeting of a board of education, or any meeting between any representative of a school district and any representative of employees, at which a collective bargaining agreement is discussed to be open to the public?”

The full text is in this link.

Proposition 104 has flown under the radar mostly because Caldara said he didn’t have the money to advertise, but he said voters know a good thing when they see it. Caldara said he took about $300,000 from the institute’s funds, mostly to get the issue before voters.

“Most of that cost was to get it on the ballot,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s polling very well and there’s a sizable endorsement list from newspapers.”

The opposition group, Local Schools, Local Choices, raised about $64,000 to oppose the measure, according to The group’s website said the ballot issue would usurp local control, require the districts to spend money for possible litigation and reveal districts’ bargaining strategies. The group declined to provide a representative for an interview.

Caldara said some districts in Colorado and nationwide have opened contract negotiations to the public and the problems Prop 104 opponents are predicting haven’t happened.

Wetzel agreed, saying seven school districts, including Douglas County and Poudre, conduct contract negotiations in public meetings and that has worked well. He just doesn’t think it should be a state requirement.

“We support allowing local residents to decide what’s in the best interest of their communities,” he said.

Unlike many Colorado initiatives, Proposition 104 puts the language in statute, not the state Constitution, so lawmakers can change the law if it is causing major problems, Caldara said.

He said teachers unions and school boards oppose the proposition because they don’t want voters to see what is happening in teacher negotiations.

“Anyone in the smoky back rooms is against it,” he said.