Senate Bill 191 Sleight Of Hand

The Colorado Court Of Appeals reversed judge Michael Martinez’s dismissal of the lawsuit filed in 2014 by the DCTA questioning the ‘Mutual Consent’ provisions of Senate Bill (SB) 191. Since the reversal, the Colorado Supreme has agreed to hear the lawsuit.  Both the DCTA and DPS have said that they are glad that the Supreme Court agreed to accept the case and both sides expressed confidence that their side would prevail.

Because DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg has not yet returned from his six-month sabbatical to live abroad with his family, according to him, as he promised them that he would years ago, Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova is at the reins. Being a good soldier, of course, she echoed a statement that Superintendent Boasberg made earlier during the lawsuit process.

According to an article in Chalkbeat in March 2016, Ms. Cordova said “DPS believes lawmakers were right to allow districts to end forced placement, especially because of its effects on high-poverty schools. “‘If districts must go back to forced placement, then those students are the most likely to have teachers who are not the right fit forced into their schools.”‘

Earlier during the lawsuit process – again, according to Chalkbeat, Superintendent Boasberg said “‘Forced placement of teachers into schools where they do not want to teach, or where the school is unwilling to offer them jobs, is wrong. It’s wrong for kids, it’s wrong for teachers, it’s wrong for schools…'”  What a scenario for sleight of hand and a bunch of smoke and mirrors that statement set up.  For right now, let’s go with the sleight of hand and forget about the smoke and mirrors.

DPS’ sleight of hand? They are telling us that they are extremely concerned about all of these unfortunate teachers who will be forced into schools where they do not want to teach while these teachers are in essence crying out; please do not place me there, I would rather ultimately lose my job and be unable to pay my bills than be placed there.  Please do not put me there!  And they are telling us that they are abundantly concerned for these schools that are unwilling to offer these teachers jobs but are being forced to accept them while principals and teachers at these schools are openly crying out; none of these teachers are worthy and capable teachers, I implore you, do not send them here!  DPS says that this is wrong for kids, it’s wrong for teachers and it’s wrong for schools.

Now, let’s rewind to the ‘Dance of the Lemons’ days back in the 1990s. Do you remember those days?  For those of you who either just do not remember or were not even yet born in those days, this was a time when DPS was struggling to rid itself of teachers that it did not feel were meeting DPS requirements but could not fire them because of tenure.  Instead, they were forced to place them in any schools that had openings.  They referred to this situation as ‘The Dance of the Lemons.

While some of these teachers might not have met requirements, there were others who, whether or not they met requirements had acquired powerful enemies either in the schools, at the 900 Grant Street (DPS Administration) level, or both. Even though some principals might have wanted to hire some of these teachers, if they knew that they were on the Administrations unwritten blacklist, these principals would have had to be out of their minds to hire them if they valued their own jobs.

Sleight of hand? Just like the Administration was feinting great concern for teachers, schools and DPS children’s learning experience but actually setting the stage to use SB 191 to get rid of unwanted teachers while at the same time likely covertly coercing principals not to accept these teachers; principals were secretly wanting to hire some of them while feinting not wanting to hire them and influencing their personnel committees not to accept them.  Oh what a tangled web we weave…  I would quickly add that even the teachers who were not meeting requirements deserved due-process.  But DPS desperately needed to solve this ‘Dance of the Lemons’ problem when suddenly (or not so suddenly) SB 191 materialized.

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), their problem was solved, right? Wrong.  Because in order for SB 191 to solve their problem DPS would have to abuse it.  That brings us to the point that we are at now.  If you juxtapose SB 191 and ‘The Dance of the Lemons’ problem, it appears that the solution is there.  But it cannot be there if it requires abusing this bill.  And DCTA is arguing that this is exactly what DPS is doing; they are taking a ‘the end justifies the means’ approach to solving what they see as the problem and this should not be allowed.

Again, as I said in an article that I wrote a few years ago in the Denver Post, the fact that the DCTA and an arbitrator disagree with supporters of SB 191 about the interpretation of the mutual-consent provisions of the bill does not make SB 191 a bad bill. But neither does it make the DCTA and the arbitrator who agreed with them ogres who do not care about Denver’s children but, instead, place their own interest above that of providing these children with a top quality education.

I agree with the DCTA. I also believe that DPS lost a lot of excellent and dedicated teachers by way of their use of SB 191.  Through SB 191, they have done harm to the quest for Denver children to get the best education possible rather than enhancing that quest.  DPS should take a step back from what it views as the best path forward to educating our children, reassess the situation and try again to collaborate with those in the trenches such as students, parents, teachers and principals and with other experts in academia to reach the right solution for educating all of our children.

And when the DPS Administration is interacting with these teachers and principals it should not punish them for their input when it does not agree with the line of thinking of that of the Administration but should objectively consider it. DPS Administration should make the final decision but that decision should not be based on abusing SB 191 or any other bill or law.  Instead, it should be based on the spirit and intent of forging the best team possible and securing its loyalty and trust to assure that children attending DPS receive the best education possible.

Eulus Dennis – author, Operation Rubik’s Cube and Living Between The Line