Douglas County Colorado lies immediately south of Denver, but is worlds apart politically. While Denver is a Democratic stronghold in this battleground state, Douglas County is registered 49% Republican, 22% Democrat, and 29% independent. What happens in places like Douglas County may not be easily replicated in California, unless you believe, as we do, that public sector union reform is a bipartisan issue.
The story of Douglas County is fascinating because it shows just how much political power a school board really has over their unions if they choose to wield it. The fight began back in 2009 when the Douglas County GOP was drawn into a election fight for supposedly nonpartisan positions at the local utility board. Apparently the Democratic party was systematically taking over local utility boards in order to enforce their agenda of promoting renewable energy and banning coal and nuclear power. Forewarned, and having a commanding advantage in registration, the Douglas County GOP fielded a slate of candidates and defeated the Democratic challengers.
The Douglas County GOP then looked at the voting records of the seven supervisors on the Douglas County School Board and decided to run candidates to contest the four open seats in the election of November 2009. They won all four and gained a majority on the board. In November 2011 the GOP ran candidates for three more open seats and won again, securing seven-to-zero unanimous control of the Douglas County School Board.
These victories started the battle with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). As the new board examined the district’s budget, they realized that four full-time union operatives were being paid out of district funds. They cut the funding, requiring the union to pay these employees using dues revenue. The board also noticed that the school district’s union was collecting $1.3 million in dues per year, and was sending $850,000 of that back to the AFT headquarters in Washington. The board decided to stop using the district’s payroll department to withhold union dues, forcing the union to collect it themselves.
The final break came in June 2012, when the three year contract with the teachers union expired. The board decided to not renew the contract. They made contract offers with every teacher individually and included merit pay.