The Buena Vista Board of Education began their meeting Monday, June 26 with an executive session to discuss “strategy of the school district related to a proposal for a negotiated agreement for district employees.” The regular meeting began, and the board soon addressed a recent petition signed by teachers and staff.
The board received the petition at the May 8 meeting with signatures of more than 70 percent of the Buena Vista School District’s current employees asking the union to be formally recognized. Recognized as a chapter of the CEA in 1971, the [BVEA] organization wishes to have a locally recognized voice. A majority of employees signed the petition to support recognizing the union and beginning collective bargaining on a master agreement for the first time.
The May meeting audience contained nearly two dozen employees in support of the petition. But the June 26 meeting featured only three staff. Beyond the executive session, the topic was not officially on the agenda for the Monday meeting. This made it difficult for the BVEA members to rally attendees.
It would appear that the resulting decision to introduce the item on the agenda and refuse the teachers’ petition may have broken Colorado open meeting requirements of the Colorado Sunshine Law for not properly noticing the topic to the public.
The board came out strongly against recognizing the BVEA due to its association with the Colorado Education Association. A majority of the board agreed that they would not recognize the BVEA because of the CEA’s recent “anti-capitalist” resolution. Board member Brett Mitchell, sporting a t-shirt that read “land of the free,” spoke at length about his concerns over the issue. He thanked the teachers in the room for the hard work they put into the petition first. Then the “but” arrived.
Mitchell stated that the same week they brought the request was the same week that the CEA said “capitalism is the root of all evils in this country.” Mitchell cited stories of parents being harassed for wanting to know what their kids were being taught, and referenced a National Education Association lawsuit against a parent for asking questions.
“I’m at a loss as to what outcome the teachers are asking for,” said Mitchell. He said there were many opportunities for teachers to connect with the board and other leadership, such as public comment during meetings, what he termed “poorly attended” listening sessions, and the fact that it is a small town and teachers “ought to know board members,” that would allow them to talk at any time.
It was pointed out that the topic of better-providing opportunities for communicating with staff had been discussed at the previous meeting that Mitchell had not attended.
Mitchell continued, “We’re a small district with a close relationship to the teachers, and I’m disappointed that they want to bring in an outside party.” He compared the request to “throwing a baby out with the bathwater” because of a few issues leading to throwing out the entire contact. “I am confident we can work through a contract or policy issue and return the organization to the close ‘family’ it used to be,” said Mitchell.
Board members Lynn Montoya, Tracy Storms, Barbara Crites, Stacey Moss and President Suzette Hachmann agreed with Mitchell. “The CEA is my biggest concern right now,” said Storms. “I personally do not agree with anything they have in their resolution and what they said. I don’t feel like our school district represents that.”
Storms also agreed with Mitchell that communication shouldn’t be an issue. “Being on the board for eight years now we have made wonderful strides. The communication is so much better from when I first started to now. We have advocated very hard for our teachers and every employee in this district,” said Storms.
Storms, Crites, and Hachmann stated that they believed there are better collaborative solutions to address staff concerns. Hachmann cited assistants being provided to address classroom sizes and said that changes made to salaries this year were fair and aligned with the staff requests. “We have avenues for staff to communicate and have meaningful input already, I hope they will continue to be used effectively. We will continue to brainstorm. I hope the district will be a place where students and staff feel cared for, but I don’t believe CEA representation is a way to achieve that,” said Hachmann.
Board member Olivia Bartlett was the sole dissenting voice. “Every teacher that has taught my youth is on this [petition], and that means a lot to me. I would like to recognize that voice. I agree with the board that the inclusion of the CEA is the problem – I don’t want to say that, by not being formally recognized by the board, you’re not being recognized. I want to support you in continuing to try if that is what you want to do.”
First-grade teacher Melissa St. John spoke on behalf of the BVEA during public comment, supported by fifth-grade teacher Carolyn Kerby and elementary paraprofessional Sarah Case. St. John made it clear that the BVEA, while associated with the CEA, is independent and does not represent or necessarily approve of the CEA’s belief statements.
“We want to recognize that the board has made time to draft a resolution in response to the CEA resolution. We see and hear that you, the members of our board, are concerned,” said St. John. She took the time to explain that members of the CEA have opportunities to have their voices heard and have the opportunity to propose resolutions at a delegate assembly, but these resolutions “are belief statements and do not compel actions.”
“BVEA has not taken any action on this resolution,” said St. John. “Our focus is here in our hometown in our own schools. We can and should be included in the decisions being made that impact our professions and our students. We want to sit down with you. Yes, we’ve come as a collaborative group because there is strength in numbers.”
In response to the board’s statements about communication channels, St. John explained that many people did not feel safe from retaliation if they came to speak on their own, highlighting the need for “strength in numbers.” She also elaborated that while the BVEA has access to CEA resources, it has not attended the CEA delegation and has not asked to do so.
The BVEA recently has seen membership numbers spike, though the staff turnover rate frequently makes these numbers fluctuate. Because of this, St. John is once again starting with a new team.
“I understand your concerns with CEA, but BVEA is us. We are the ones asking for a seat at that table. We are the ones asking to talk to you,” said St. John in conclusion.
School Board Officially Condemns CEA Resolution
Later in the meeting, the topic of the CEA returned when the school board approved what they referenced as a resolution titled “Support for Economic Freedom and Impartial Classrooms”. This resolution expresses “strong disapproval of the CEA’s resolution” stating, “The Buena Vista School Board wants to assure the public that CEA’s position does not represent the Board’s or the District’s point of view, and that the Board considers the vilification of capitalism to be grossly incorrect.”
The resolution states that the BV School Board is committed to providing impartial classrooms and believes that capitalism is the “engine that generates the resources on which public schools and teachers’ salaries depend. The resolution recognizes that capitalism “rewards individual efforts and has lifted enormous numbers of people out of poverty” and that it is a “mighty force for economic prosperity, the preservation of liberty, and the protection of private property rights.”
The resolution concludes, “The Buena Vista School Board of Education strongly rejects the CEA resolution, recognizes that capitalism has done immeasurably more than any other economic system in history to advance human prosperity and assures parents of the District’s commitment to providing students neutral learning environments that prioritize academic achievement. The Board further directs the Superintendent to continue to promote classroom practices in the District that align with the commitments expressed in this resolution.”
Mitchell moved to adopt the resolution, stating it was an easy resolution to pass.
Bartlett was again the sole dissenter. “This is not so easy for me,” said Bartlett who continued to say that without changes “the poor will continue to be poor and the rich will continue to be rich. Education is seeking to provide equal education to all. I’m not entirely thinking that capitalism is the way to do that. That’s where I dissent from this opinion.”
The resolution to Support Economic Freedom passed six to one and was officially adopted.