In an Oct. 23 press release, the Park County School District RE-2 Board President Bundgaard announced that the district and teachers’ union had reached an agreement to end the strike. She concluded: “Overall, the board and SPEA will continue to endeavor to have positive relations and communications in order to provide the best education opportunities for the district’s students.”

So much for fluffy press releases to the public.

Before the strike ended, South Park Educators Association filed formal pleadings with the Colorado Department of Labor seeking assistance in the dispute over wages and a Professional Agreement that would allow SPEA to bargain over wages for teachers and staff.

What a refreshing approach: independent expertise to assist the district and SPEA to reach a resolution to their impasse. An independent finding as to whether there are sufficient funds to permit an improvement in teacher salaries or the district is in the poor house.

A mere nine days after President Bundgaard’s “positive relations” press release, the district filed a response with the DOL stating that it opposed an independent inquiry and more shockingly stated: “…the district does not recognize SPEA and there is no contractual right as to methods of negotiating salaries and moving forward.  There is no legal requirement that the district recognize SPEA, negotiate any Professional Agreement, or negotiate salaries.”

Say what?

This was not a mere gaffe. This statement appears in a legal pleading where the lawyer and the district are bound to assert truthfulness.

So which is it? Does the district want to negotiate in good faith with the teachers, or take the position that they are not legally required to negotiate with the teachers?

What’s happening here?  Clearly, there was dissension within the ranks of the district. Three directors have resigned, including Bundgaard, and the superintendent has agreed to leave at year end. There is no indication that any directors wanted him to stay. Why? And, two new directors, volunteers, have been appointed by, I suppose, the resigning directors. No community input there.  Messy.

The teachers have lost wages and standing among some in the community. The same applies to members of the board who, in my opinion, couldn’t take the heat and, rather than work hard to find solutions, bailed out. The parents have lost because their children have not been well served. Homeowners take a hit because schools are any community’s greatest asset; but, not here. And our kids have taken the biggest hit because adults can’t find solutions.

Who gained from this mess?  Well, the district’s lawyer has been paid for leading the directors through ad nauseum executive sessions beyond the purview of public scrutiny. And, it has been reported that the superintendent will be paid through next August even though he departs at the end of the year.

Here’s a bit of advice to whatever board emerges from this mess. First, this is a tough, serious job. You have a fiduciary duty to the district’s students, teachers, staff, parents and taxpayers to be proactive in managing the district. You are not a rubber stamp for the superintendent and his or her plans. You make policy and she or he carries it out.

You will be running a multi-million dollar business.  You are no longer sitting at the kitchen table balancing the household checkbook. You will need the advice of lawyers and accountants. They will advise you on the legality and financial impact of what you deem proper and required.

But, you do not have the community’s permission to retain them to make decisions for you. We did not elect them.  The board runs the district, not consultants. You should also challenge your superintendent, lawyers and accountants when their advice runs contrary to your gut feelings.

Read the pleadings your lawyer prepares before filing in the public record. It’s called “due diligence” so that you can make the right decision and it ain’t easy.

Here’s hoping for a better future and cooperation.

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