Darren Cook gives his take on the D-51 Board majority’s recent decision to send only lawyers to represent the District in negotiations with D-51 teachers

Darren Cook (Photo: CO Education Association via Twitter, 2015)

Note: This is a guest post by Darren Cook, a former longtime District 51 middle School teacher and former President of the Mesa Valley Education Association, which represents public school teachers. Darren started a website and blog to give the public his take on decisions being made by the current District 51 School Board majority. Darren is running to replace controversial current school board member Andrea Haitz  in the upcoming recall election.

On Friday, the Mesa Valley Education Association shocked the teachers of District 51 by announcing that for the first time in forty years, the Board of Education will not directly negotiate with teachers. Instead, they will be represented by two lawyers, David Price and Tammy Eret.

In my twenty-three-year career with D51, I was part of the teachers’ negotiation team for seventeen of those. We brought eight to ten teachers, paying attention to having representation from each instructional level, content, and area of expertise. D51 administration brought a similarly representative team, with administrators from each level, the Chief Financial Officer, Executive Director of Human Resources, and Superintendent as key parts of their team. And, of course, all five Board members were there. Always.

Decisions are made by first building a base understanding of the facts surrounding the issue, often called the “story.” After building a complete picture, we begin to list interests. When discussing salaries, for instance, our CFO might say, “I have an interest in ensuring that we can pay our bills.” I always shared that interest, as I wanted my paycheck to clear the bank. Our HR representative might say, “I have an interest in attracting and retaining quality teachers.” I also shared that interest. Having a strong team around me helps make me a more effective teacher. I might then say, “I have an interest in my paycheck keeping up with inflation.” That made sense to everyone. Once we each had shared our interests, we then looked at options. We only looked at options that met all of our interests because our process required all Board members, all administrators, and all teachers to agree to support the decision publicly. If you couldn’t agree to do that, we kept talking. We laughed, we cried, and we adapted our positions based on new information. It’s a long process requiring patience and emotional resilience, but our kids, our teachers, and our community deserve it.

Sure, we all groaned and moaned about the time we were donating to this exercise, but we also recognized its importance in arriving at good decisions.

Each of the twenty-five people in the room had a unique perspective and experience necessary to ensure good decisions were made. And we kept coming back, year after year, because we knew the importance of our work, and also because we learned so much from listening to the other people in the room. Sitting in that room was the proverbial “drinking from the fire hose” of knowledge. Board members commented every year how valuable it was to their understanding of both teachers’ perspectives and the complexity behind every decision we made. Seemingly simple issues were riddled with the potential for embarrassing and costly missteps. That’s why it was necessary to move slowly, methodically, and with great care to ensure unintended consequences don’t happen. And we left Negotiations each year with a better understanding and appreciation of the complexity of our issues, a better understanding and appreciation of the people who help it achieve its mission, and a better understanding and appreciation that we are all on the same team.


Tammy Eret (Photo: LinkedIn)

D51’s mission is to “engage, equip, and empower each and every student, each and every day.” Who actually accomplishes that mission?



Every other position in D51 exists to support teachers, the people who actually carry out the mission.

Every Board has understood that basic truth and took care to work closely with teachers. They listened to them. Problem solved with them. And showed them the respect they deserved by sitting down with them each year to discuss their wages and working conditions.

David Price (Photo: CraigDailyPress.com)

Well, until this Board majority, that is.

Why they have chosen to abdicate that responsibility to highly paid lawyers baffles me.


Is it because the master contract between MVEA and D51 is up for renewal this year, and they intend to oppose it? Many teachers think after denying students life-saving services at Grand Junction High School, and opening charter schools while closing neighborhood schools, this board majority’s next move is to attack the organization that protects the public teaching profession. As MVEA president, I occasionally heard people say, “We like teachers but don’t like teachers’ unions.” I often smiled at that comment because it’s a distinction without a difference, as the majority of teachers are part of the union. So, while I don’t know the motivation for this Board majority to sit out negotiations this year, I can mentally add it to the growing lists of moves that destabilize our public schools.

  14 comments for “Darren Cook gives his take on the D-51 Board majority’s recent decision to send only lawyers to represent the District in negotiations with D-51 teachers

  1. What is the current MVEA leadership like? Can they organize a strike if the board will not negotiate in good faith. At the very least they should refuse to agree to any “ground rules” the lawyers propose. Specifically a common tactic is to agree that the negotiators won’t tell anyone else about proposals that are presented. This disconnects the workers from speaking out against contracts they will not accept (see John Deere strike). I hope the MVEA has some good leadership right now as I suspect they are about to be under attack.

    • What is current MVEA leadership? In a word: nonexistent. Weepy Tim Couch and his merry band of terrified sycophants are less than useless, and I’m loving every minute of it!

  2. At Coffee with the Board held at Nisley Elementary School just a few weeks ago, board member Will Jones, when asked why attorneys were in charge of negotiations this year, replied: “Last year, Andrea [Haitz] ran negations; mistakes were made.” Wonder what Will considers “mistakes”?

  3. First, I’d like to see some proof that the board won’t be present at negotiations and why that decision was arrived at.
    Second, at first blush, the story Darren presents is pretty grim…earnest teachers having to negotiate with a lawfirm as opposed to how it was in years past with lots of tears and laughs and unifying meetings.
    From what I have read, there have always been lawyers present at these negotiations and I assume all the entities Darren mentioned will represent the district. The only possible difference, if it is true, is that the board won’t attend.

    • MVEA has confirmed that two lawyers, one is on the district’s payroll, will be representing the board. Board members maybe present in the audience. I believe there are about 32 hours scheduled for negotiations over the course of two weeks, but usually it does not take that long. I am wondering how the board decided that, and it was a vote. I would bet the vote was a split of 3-2.

      • Tammy Eret works for District 51 (having replaced John Williams in the capacity) and David Price is an attorney with Hoskin, Farina and Kampf, who has long done work for the school district, and presumably he is billing the District for his time spent in these negotiations.

    • Hi Alice,
      As a person sitting in the audience watching negotiations, I can confirm that there are no board members present. One lawyer mentioned that he was excited to be at the negotiating table for the first time in his long (over 35 years) career as a lawyer for the district. This tells me that the board typically does not have their lawyers at contract negotiations. I hope this clarifies things for you.

  4. I find it very suspicious that the board has been very willing to take comments from the community at every board meeting until this information has come to light an now they are not taking public comments at tomorrow’s board meeting. So they will not be questioned about this decision or have to answer to the public until after negotiations.

  5. Thank you for sharing this and for your blog. It is so hard to find good information and I appreciate hearing from someone who is a long-time teacher, and has thoughtful comments. I hope we soon have a school board that puts education first

  6. This is terrible. It was tragic that District 51 School Board rejected health services for students — which was supported by every social worker/mental health worker/Physician Assistant in the system. Facts do not matter to this Board. I’m also wondering who pays for the lawyers that DIstrict 51 Board hired to represent them (rather than do their job), and does that mean teachers and union have to get lawyers? Is this a legit expenditure for school district to pay, and probably pass it on in some way to families or teachers or both, or reduce pay/benefits of teachers by what is surely a high cost for these lawyers? We will continue to lose our teachers. I will follow this blog to see if some of these questions are answered, and thank you Darren Cook.

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