Leany: Union contract has ‘got to go’
District 51 School Board member Jeff Leany sees an opening in Tuesday’s election for his school reform ideas to gain supporting votes.
Two years into a four-year term, Leany said he has spent his time on the board learning about the district and researching reforms at other school districts to glean ideas for District 51. His plans to charge forward with his ideas for local education reform depend on the outcome of Tuesday’s school board election, he said. Leany and fellow school board member Ann Tisue have endorsed Mesa County Republican Women-endorsed candidates Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder because, according to Leany, they are conservatives who he believes will support his ideas.
Chief among those ideas, Leany said, is to abandon teacher tenure and replace the current teacher pay scale with a salary schedule that offers higher wages to teachers hired for harder-to-fill jobs. Teacher and principal evaluations mandated by Senate Bill 191, passed by the state legislature in 2010 and implemented statewide beginning this year, permit districts to nab tenure from currently-tenured teachers evaluated as ineffective this year and next school year. Leany said he wants to take evaluations one step further and pay teachers based on how well they do their jobs, get rid of the ones “on the bottom tier,” and base pay on “supply and demand” using a system similar to the five bands of pay implemented by Douglas County School District, which uses evaluations and applicant totals per position to determine raises and bonuses.
“The contract we have with the union has got to go,” Leany said, referring to the contract negotiated between the school board and local teacher representation group Mesa Valley Education Association. The contract is for three years, but elements of it, including teacher pay, are negotiated annually.
Tisue, who also is two years into a four-year term on the school board, said the idea of a redesigned compensation system is “in the study stage” but outlined as a goal in the District 51 Long-Term Plan adopted unanimously by the board last November.
“How can you attract (hard-to-get teachers) when you’ve got a single salary schedule?” she asked.
Sluder said at a candidate forum Oct. 10 school districts nationwide are “losing some really high quality teachers because they can earn more money in the private sector or in other districts.”
“So if we have a physics teacher who is really hard to replace, we need to show equity to the real workforce to make sure we can hold onto those quality teachers here in District 51, instead of having them migrate to somewhere else in the state,” he said.
Lowenstein said he sees a new compensation system that resembles how private businesses operate as a goal but something he needs to research. “I don’t think it’s something that can happen immediately but it needs to be investigated,” he said.
While Leany said he hopes to begin work on a new salary method “right away,” Kanda said any changes within a month or two of the election would be “foolish” to anticipate. Kanda is in favor of looking into a market-based pay system for teachers and certified staff at the district as long as groups like MVEA are involved in the discussion. “It’s not something you can do without bringing players who are going to be impacted into this,” he said.
Leany said teacher unions are “terrified” of potential changes in tenure and compensation. However, MVEA President Darren Cook said his 900 teacher members are not afraid of change but want to vet ideas before they are implemented. Cook said if MVEA and the school board did not come to an agreement in negotiations this spring, his understanding is the contract would default to what’s already in it.
“Absolutely we want to look at all different models for pay. Before we study them, it’s impossible to say what’s going to be good and what’s going to be bad,” Cook said.
School Board President and District E candidate Greg Mikolai said the board has discussed alternative compensation but those discussions have never outlined how the district would pay for such a change. He said offering more money to more in-demand teachers would either require spending more money or lowering the pay of other teachers. He added the district would have to decide if its market competition is private industry, districts of similar size or nearby school districts in order to make a market-based pay system.
“It sounds like a good idea but unless there’s a viable financial model, it’s not going to go anywhere,” Mikolai said.
District D candidate Tom Parrish said he doesn’t know enough about Douglas County’s market-based pay scale to say whether he is in favor of it. District C candidate John Williams’ campaign has not focused on revamping pay scales.
Leany said his ideas do not end with salary and tenure changes. He would also like to see changes in curricula, especially changes away from nationwide Common Core standards and a new district-wide math program implemented four years ago.
“That new junk isn’t cutting it,” Leany said. “We need to take it back to the basics.”