Adams 12 may change the way state teacher union employees are paid

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Adams 12 Five Star School District may soon cut ties with its district employees working for the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

At issue is whether Adams 12 employee Amie Baca-Oehlert is entitled to Public Employee Retirement Account (PERA) benefits while serving full-time in Denver as vice president of CEA.

The Adams 12 school board is expected to vote at a future meeting whether to change the high school counselor’s employment status with the district from “leave with pay” to “leave without pay.”

The decision comes after board members learned that CEA is not a PERA-eligible employer. Additionally, Baca-Oehlert is not directly providing services to her district, which state laws says an employee must be doing in order to collect public employee retirement benefits. Norm Jennings, vice president of the Adams 12 Board of Education, believes she is ineligible for the benefits because her role with CEA does not directly support Adams 12.

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Colorado Education Association headquarters

According to Katie VanMeter, communications specialist for Adams 12, Baca-Oehlert was originally hired by the district in August 2003 as a counselor for Northglenn High School. Three years later, on Oct. 1, 2006, she transferred to the District Twelve Education Association (DTEA) as a coordinator. In September 2010, she became the DTEA president, and on July 1, 2012, she was granted leave with pay from the district to become CEA’s vice president.

Under the terms of her contract, Baca-Oehlert receives $74,702 in salary from Adams 12, along with all her benefits. CEA then reimburses Adams 12 for those expenses.

“The district is not out any money by doing that,” Jennings said.

However, board members want to change the process since learning she is not eligible for PERA. A successful vote would put the responsibility on CEA to pay Baca-Oehlert’s pay and benefits directly, rather than funnel them through the district.

CEA is affiliated with local teacher unions from many school districts across Colorado. Jennings said PERA administrators confirmed the rules, and at that point he believed changing Baca-Oehlert’s contract to “leave without pay” was the only right thing to do.

“I am not going to be complacent about something that is illegal,” Jennings said. “They’ve threatened to sue us for breach of contract. But if we don’t do it, we could be sued by someone outside the district. I’d rather be sued for doing something right than sued for doing something wrong.”

A similar situation exists in Jefferson County, where Kerrie Dallman left her position as a social studies teacher for union duties, first at the Jefferson County Education Association in 2008 and then CEA in 2012, where she is currently president.

Jeffco Board of Education President Ken Witt said he believed the Jeffco board voted to let Dallman’s contract expire last June. However, according to Amy Weber, executive director of human resources for Jeffco, the district is still paying her and getting reimbursed from CEA for all salary and benefits—including PERA.

Witt said he planned to follow up on the matter, however, because he too believes paying her PERA benefits is not allowed.

Neither Dallman nor Baca-Oehlert responded to requests from Complete Colorado for interview.

Jennings said the board gave CEA plenty of opportunity to discuss the matter, but the state-level union organization ignored all attempts at communication regarding the issue until being notified of its intent to change Baca-Oehlert’s status.

He said they are having one last ditch effort to work something out, but if CEA does sue, Jennings is confident Adams 12 will prevail.

“We’ve made a determination they are doing an end run around the benefits,” Jennings said. “When we do something wrong we admit it and make things right, but we have to be careful how we do it.”

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