Our View: A proactive approach to Proposition 104 | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: A proactive approach to Proposition 104

Steamboat Springs School District is leading the state when it comes to Proposition 104 and the issue of opening the collective bargaining process to the public. Before voters approved the proposition, the Steamboat Springs School Board already had voted to make those meetings open regardless of whether or not the measure received the nod from Colorado voters.

It was a bold move, and we think the School Board was wise to show its support for a more open employee contract negotiation process in advance of the election. Ultimately, voters across the state approved Proposition 104 by a three-to-one margin, which is evidence that the public has a strong interest in open meetings and making sure government business is conducted transparently.

In the wake of the election, school district officials have been proactive about reaching out to the Steamboat Pilot & Today about the new open collaborative bargaining process. (In Steamboat, the teacher negotiation process is referred to as collaborative, rather than collective bargaining, and our reporting on the first few meetings has proven that to be true.) After the first meeting was held in open session, the district reached out to the newspaper to discuss guidelines, logistics and practical considerations for conducting the lengthy, daylong meetings in open session.

This approach was welcomed and is evidence that district leaders want to abide by open meetings law even though Proposition 104 still is uncharted territory for newspapers and school districts alike. It also prompted the newspaper to request that the Colorado Press Association's attorney draft an analysis of the legal effect of Proposition 104, which then was disseminated to newspapers across the state.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today has covered the school district's first two open collaborative bargaining meetings, and even though the sessions themselves produced few action items, our reporting focused on explaining the negotiation process to readers. The articles have been well read and served to educate the public about a process that previously had been conducted behind closed doors.

If Proposition 104 had not passed, Colorado residents would have been left in the dark about a process that involves how school employees are paid, which for most districts, including those in Routt County, represents the largest portion of their annual budgets.

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In addition, district patrons have the opportunity to learn about important considerations that go into finalizing contracts beyond just the dollar figure. At the latest Steamboat Springs collaborative bargaining meeting, the public learned that teachers and district leaders were exploring options for paid time off that would help the families of those employed by the school and also taking a closer look at parenting leave policies.

Steamboat Springs is serving as a model for other districts when it comes to navigating Proposition 104, which doesn't take affect statewide until mid-January. Our local district already has taken the major step of making its collaborative bargaining meetings open to the public, and we think other districts could learn from what's happening here as they establish their own open meetings protocol.

Moving forward, we would like to see more detailed agendas published in advance of the meetings as well as complete minutes made available from each session. We also think there's value in videotaping the daylong meetings and then broadcasting them in some form similar to what the Steamboat Springs City Council does to make the process more accessible to members of the public. This is especially important if the district decides to continue holding the collaborative bargaining meetings during the day when most residents are working and teachers are in the classroom.

In the months to come, media outlets and school districts will continue to grapple with questions about the implications of Proposition 104, but it's obvious to us already that the big winners in this conversation are members of the public who now have a window into the process of how school employee contracts are negotiated and how taxpayer dollars are spent.

At issue

Steamboat School District’s collaborative bargaining meetings now are being conducted in open session.

Our view

The district is leading the state on Proposition 104, and local residents are the winners.