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Aspen Board of Education approves master agreement with teachers

Agreement codifies policies, adds clarity in the district

Aspen School District teachers wait in line for The Rolling Fork food truck on the school campus while being celebrated for teacher appreciation week on Wednesday, March 5, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The idea of a master agreement between the Aspen School District Board of Education and the Aspen Educational Association has been brewing for nearly two decades. Now, it’s coming to fruition: the board unanimously approved Friday a master collective bargaining agreement with the association who represents teachers and staff.

The agreement takes effect July 1 of this year through June 30, 2024, at which time the association and the board can renew or renegotiate its terms, according to a news release. Its approval follows months of negotiations and weekly meetings between the groups and yielded nine iterations of the document, Superintendent David Baugh said during Friday’s meeting, which was the last board meeting of the school year.

“A master agreement is something that this district has kind of been thinking about for the last 20 years, and we feel that a master agreement makes everyone’s life a little bit better,” Baugh said.



“Simply speaking, it lays out clear expectations and procedures that govern the workplace environment for all,” he said.

The 38-page document codifies state and federal laws as well as district policies in an agreement that both parties found mutually beneficial.



“We think this is a fantastic step in labor management relations and we’re very excited about this new chapter moving forward,” Baugh said after the meeting.

Aspen Education Association President Stephanie Nixon and Vice President Marnie White shared the sentiment and considered the approval a big win for all parties involved.

“This year was all about communication and finding a pathway to work together in a kind and respectful way, and I think this agreement just fosters that,” Nixon said during the meeting. “I think this agreement shows that we were able to, quite frankly, come together in a negotiation process that was quite honestly inspiring, and I’m not being cheesy.”

The association represents teachers and special service providers such as counselors and physical therapists as well as education support professionals — a group of contracted classified employees including office professionals, custodial staff, transportation workers and early-childhood teachers.

Nearly three-quarters of the association’s 170 members voted in favor of the agreement within 48 hours and all other members did not vote, according to Nixon and White; there were no formal oppositions from association membership. (“We had to rock the vote,” Nixon said in an interview after the meeting.)

Most of the policies laid out in the master agreement already exist in some form within the district, with a few notable updates and clarifications to wellness benefits, sabbatical policy, the grievance process and personnel files.

MASTER AGREEMENT POLICY UPDATES

The district’s sabbatical policy is back online with the approval of the new agreement (it was previously on pause), with a new provision: paid leave for a planned program of courses at an accredited institution that relates to professional growth comes with the caveat that the program “cannot be achieved through remote learning.”

The wellness benefit now provides up to $600 annually to most district employees (up from $400) for recreational expenses like ski passes, gym memberships and fitness equipment as well as alternative wellness treatments like acupuncture and homeopathic therapy.

It can also be used for bus passes. In support of the district’s sustainability goals, the wellness section of the agreement also commits to a daily staff bus between Carbondale and campus and hints that there may be future incentives for those who choose to take transportation other than a personal motor vehicle to work.

The agreement adds clarity to the district’s grievance procedure, which includes additional detail for an informal procedure and four-step formal procedure (with an appeals process and clear timeline) for any district employee with a grievance.

The agreement also standardizes how the district handles personnel files, a process which was previously “inconsistent at best and dubious at worst,” Baugh said during Friday’s meeting.

Plus, several memorandums of understanding attached to the master agreement commit to work on “longstanding systemic shortcomings that we do need to address,” Baugh said; those shortcomings include a lack of salary transparency and lack of a comprehensive inventory of position descriptions for education support professionals.

“The District and AEA both recognize that the current salary system for teachers and (special service providers) is not transparent, is potentially or probably inequitable, and leaves the District with possible legal liability,” one such memorandum states. “As such, the District and AEA commit to a full reassessment of the compensation system for teachers and (special service providers).”

That reassessment work could begin at any point in the 2021-22 school year alongside efforts to revise the extra duty pay schedule. (Extra duty pay includes compensation provisions for teachers and special service providers who perform additional services outside of their regular teaching duties and other positions as well as overtime pay for transportation staff and education support professionals.)

Two other memorandums commit to a comprehensive inventory of position descriptions for education support professionals, which will aid in “designing and implementing a meaningful classification and salary structure … (and) evaluation program,” neither of which are currently possible without that inventory.

Another memorandum establishes that all members of the association not already covered by the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act will receive non-probationary status after three consecutive years of effective or better evaluations, in alignment with the rights of classroom teachers.

Those memorandums don’t equate to formalized policy in the master agreement yet, according to White and Nixon.

”It’s basically a promise that we’re going to work on those four things which is very important to keep moving forward on those things,” Nixon added.

The end-products of those commitments — like possible steps and lanes for salary placements in the 2022-23 school year or a new extra duty pay schedule — would be added to the master agreement with board approval at a later time, White said.

Provisions for annual salary and benefit negotiations between the association and district administration already are baked into the master agreement.

Salary schedules and pay increases are subject to updates on a year-to-year basis, state funding for schools in Colorado varies (sometimes significantly) each year, precluding the district from making multi-year guarantees on pay and benefit increases, White said.

Aspen Education Association negotiations team members (from left) Cassie Harrelson, Marnie White, Stephanie Nixon, Kerri Kimmel and Tonie Richards pose for a photo. AEA members Josh Anderson and Eric Hansen also participated in the negotiations team.
Shawn Rios/Courtesy photo
ALL HANDS ON DECK

The following negotiations team members participated in discussions about the master agreement:

Aspen Education Association: President Stephanie Nixon, Vice-President Marnie White, Josh Anderson, Cassie Harrelson, Kerri Kimmel, Tonie Richards and Ski Country UniServ Director Eric Hansen.

District Team: Superintendent David Baugh; Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry, Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe, (former) human resoruces director Dan Blumberg,

Board of Education: President Suzy Zimet, Vice President Jonathan Nickell, Secretary Dwayne Romero, Treasurer Katy Frisch, Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Susan Marolt

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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