Loveland's Independent News Source
Loveland - June 7, 2015

Thompson School District teachers are worried.  By the end of this month their contract terms negotiated
through a process called 'collective bargaining' on their behalf by the TEA (Thompson Education Association)
will expire for the first time in 37 years.  If agreement is not found with the elected Thompson Board of
Education, which voted 4-3 on May 20 to reject the latest draft, the union's agreement will be null and void.  As
a result, the district's many concessions made to the union over previous years allowing extra days off, less
student contact and pay even while doing only union work will no longer have any legal effect whatsoever.

The Thompson School District is the largest employer in the cities of Loveland and Berthoud with over 2,000
employees.  Teachers responsible for educating some 16,000 students across the district are represented by
the TEA in 30 out of 32 schools in the district (charter schools are the exception).  Reform board members have
sought changes to the agreement that would allow pay for performance and more hours in the classroom while
the union's focus has been limiting oversight by the administration while also increasing compensation across
the board.

Curiously, the impasse in negotiations appears to be an artifact of the dysfunctional relationship between the
man in-charge, Superintendent Stan Scheer, and the majority of his publicly elected Board of Education.  For
months the board majority cautioned Scheer about the potential for failed negotiations but were ignored.  

Further complicating the process this year were Scheer's efforts to evade the new law passed by voters in
November (Prop. 104) requiring transparency by school districts officials when negotiating with teacher
unions like the TEA.  Instead of allowing the public to view his communications with the board regarding
negotiations, as mandated by voters, Scheer limited those communications largely to private meetings with
never more than three board members at any one time to keep the public out. (
see Scheer's March 31, email
acknowledging direction he received was in private)

Scheer's strategy, however, to avoid confrontation with the powerful teacher's union backfired on the teachers
who will soon be without a contract by the end of this month.  In an email to Superintendent Scheer on April
15, Board Director Bryce Carlson cautioned, (
see email string)

"In the absence of something concrete that the board can take action on, I fear the clock is going to run
out on our ability to make the changes that I believe are necessary for this district."

On May 20, Scheer's negotiator Bill Siebers presented the results of a negotiation where staff mostly ignored
input from the board majority provided in previous meetings.  Scheer would later justify ignoring the majority
of his board claiming a technicality in how they voted to give him direction.  That combined with a long absence
by board member Carl Lagner culminated in a later tied vote (3-3) which Scheer claims meant he had no
direction.   When Lagner returned from vacation and learned the negotiated document failed to address board
concerns that Scheer ignored, Lagner voted against the final agreement along with Bob Kerrigan, Bryce Carlson
and Donna Rice.  

During the vote (see video to the right of this story) supporters of the TEA shouted insults at those who voted
against their union's agreement while clapping for the three who supported TEA.  Following the vote,  
supporters of the TEA shouted insults at members of the board of education to which Lagner commented,

"The world of Thompson School District."

Scheer's Bait & Switch

On April 1, (as recorded in the minutes of that meeting) Scheer received clear direction from the majority of his
governing board.  They wanted the district to introduce pay for performance, eliminate the costly departure
bonuses, stop subsidizing union activities using limited school resources, remove teacher leave time and keep
performance management incentives.  None expected the teacher's union to concede all these issues but as in
previous years, any movement on any of these issues could have resulted in the balance of the MOU being
approved by the board of education.

Retention of the TEA's much coveted 'steps & columns' pay scale was agreed to be retained on a 4-1 vote thus
not an issue in the negotiations.  Steps (years of service) and columns (level of training or education) is a pay
scale that moves a teacher's salary upwards automatically as they complete another year or advance in their
education without the need of administration approval.  Frequently, a "raise" in the school district parlance
means the entire scale is adjusted upwards thus most teachers do, in fact, receive additional pay even in years
when the board does not approve a "raise" since they advanced in their "step" by virtue of the fact they have
one additional year of employment.

For Scheer, the sticky wickets the board majority did want on the negotiating table included a reduction of the
subsidies the teacher's union receives directly from the district including the use of printers, copiers and offices
not to mention removing a direct payroll deduction from teachers' salaries on behalf of the TEA the district
provides at its own cost.  Scheer also complained aloud to various board members about the "controversy" they
could ignite in attempts to remove a costly severance plan some call the "departure bonus" that awards
teachers departing the district with tens of thousands of dollars.  

Departure Bonus or Severance Pay?

Simply explained, during previous years when the district could not afford to provide a district-wide raise, the
TEA negotiated to place an imaginary raise in an unfunded escrow for all teachers employed at that time who
could receive the money they would have earned annually, had the raise been approved, upon leaving
employment with the district.  While introduced as an innovative short-term cost-savings gimmick years ago,
the severance pay-outs or "departure bonuses" have cost the district north of $30 million since it was agreed in
2004.  Currently, the district calculates the outstanding liability for teachers who could leave and collect a
departure bonus at well over $10-11 million.  The departure bonuses have forced the otherwise solvent
Thompson School District into deficit spending that is quickly depleting limited reserves.

In an April 1, email to the Board of Education Scheer argued they may not be able to change the departure
bonus and described the financial liability this way,

"This year's Severance will cost approximately $1.9 million and there is a total legal obligation (liability) of
approximately $10.8 million more that can be stretched out as far as the next ten years.  It is important for
Board members to understand that the Severance program has a "deferred compensation" component as
participants accepted a lower salary schedule to remain in the program."

For example, longtime Berthoud teacher Ann Gonzales gave Berthoud High School graduates a stirring speech
at their graduation ceremony in late May in which she seemed to compare Thompson School District teachers
to civil rights heroine Rosa Parks and victims of the Apartheid movement.  A popular teacher among her
students, Gonzales encouraged graduates to register to vote for this November's election (even instructing
them to find a voter registration card under their seats) in what reform board members interpreted as a
deliberate political attack on the new school board majority.

Absent from Gonzales' inspiring words, however, was any disclosure of the $58,000 she is taking directly out of
school funds by way of a departure bonus after leaving employment with the district this year.  Even TEA
insiders have agreed that in hindsight the "
deferred compensation" plan as they call it has the perverse effect
of encouraging some of the district's most senior and effective teachers to seek jobs in nearby districts.  
Gonzales signed a TEA petition on May 20, 2015 to the Board of Education making the comment,

"We teach the students integrity, we try to model this.  Please let me tell my students their school board
members are models of this.  This reminds me of McCarthyism....."

Next Steps

The impact to most teachers in the district will be negligible in the near-term.  The Thompson Board of
Education has made clear they intend to honor previous years agreements so individual teacher contracts
should not differ significantly from previous years.  One important difference will be the way TEA collects dues
for itself and those forwarded to the Colorado Teachers Association.  No longer able to deduct their dues
directly from paychecks issued by the school district, TEA will now need to pass the hat to members to pay
their expenses to keep operating.  Asking members to write personal checks directly to the TEA will likely
reduce the amount of funds they can collect.

The costly departure bonuses will also continue putting the district in the red until the board can act formally
to reduce, eliminate or otherwise reform the program.  It is doubtful they will reform that system, however, as
Scheer has made clear he wants to first consult district legal counsel before making any decisions so is unlikely
to take any action.

LovelandPolitics has learned, while preparing this story, the TEA will now seek a court injunction to continue
their agreements with the district at least until the upcoming November election.  TEA leadership claims the
district negotiated in "bad-faith" and thus any decisions can be overturned in court.

For his part, Scheer has been quietly seeking ways to allow TEA deductions from teacher paychecks to continue
despite the expired agreement by seeking permission from Board President Bob Kerrigan.  In an email
replying to Scheer's request on behalf of TEA and copied to the entire board, Kerrigan told Scheer he will need
to get a majority of board members to agree first which is unlikely.
Teacher's Union
Contract Ending
An image TEA (Thompson
Educational Association)
supporters waved during the
May 20, 2015 meeting while the
board was voting.
Thompson Education
Association (TEA)

Contrary to what is often reported
locally, the TEA is indeed a teacher's
union and not a trade association

The TEA negotiates work benefits
and salaries on behalf of its members
directly with the Thompson School
District memorialized in an ongoing
Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) which expires at the end of
this month.

The 1/2 million dollar per year
organization depends largely on
employee dues collected by the
school district from teacher pay
checks.  A large percentage of the
dues collected are forwarded to state
and national teacher's unions which
contribute to political campaigns
see TEA 2013 tax filing