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Denver Classroom Teachers Association v. City and County of Denver School District No. 1

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

June 4, 2015

Denver Classroom Teachers Association; Denver Association of Educational Office Professionals; Lloyd Bourdon; Cheryl Myres; and Toni Falcon, Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
City and County of Denver School District No. 1 in the State of Colorado; and City and County of Denver School District No. 1 Board of Education, Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants.

City and County of Denver District Court No. 11CV4215 Honorable Ann B. Frick, Judge

Martha R. Houser, Sharyn E. Dreyer, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees

Reilly Pozner LLP, Sean Connelly, Denver, Colorado; Semple, Farrington, & Everall, P.C., Martin Semple, M. Brent Case, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants

Jones and Berger, JJ, concur



¶ 1 The appellants/cross-appellees in this case are the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the Denver Association of Educational Office Professionals, Lloyd Bourdon, Cheryl Myres, and Toni Falcon (collectively, Associations). The appellees/cross-appellants are City and County of Denver School District No. 1 (district) and the City and County of Denver School District No. 1 Board of Education (board) (together, DPS).

¶ 2 Both the Associations and DPS appeal the district court's order granting in part and denying in part the Associations' petition for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief regarding the implementation of the Innovation Schools Act of 2008 (Act), sections 22-32.5-101 to -111, C.R.S. 2014, during 2011 and 2012. Specifically, the Associations contend that DPS violated the Act by implementing innovation plans at eleven district schools without first obtaining approvals for the plans from the majority of teachers employed at the schools. The court granted relief with respect to just two of the schools and denied any relief with respect to the remaining nine schools. DPS asserts that the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Associations' action, and, alternatively, it challenges that part of the court's order granting relief to the Associations with respect to the two schools.

¶ 3 The interpretation of the specific provisions of the Act at issue is a matter of first impression. We affirm the district court's order with respect to the two schools, though for a different reason than that given by the court, and reverse the remainder of the order.

I. The Innovation Schools Act

¶ 4 In the Act's legislative declarations, the General Assembly recognized

• "the importance of preserving local flexibility by granting to each school district board of education the control of instruction in the schools of the school district";
• the need for educational services to be "tailored to the specific population of students they are intended to serve";
• the need to provide parents with "great opportunity for input" regarding those services; and
• the importance of giving the principal and faculty at each public school "the maximum degree of flexibility possible to determine the most effective and efficient manner in which to meet their students' needs."

§ 22-32.5-102(1)(a)-(c), C.R.S. 2014.

¶ 5 The General Assembly also articulated the following specific purposes of the Act, among others:

(a) To grant to Colorado's school districts and public schools greater ability to meet the educational needs of a diverse and constantly changing student population;
(b) To encourage intentionally diverse approaches to learning and education within individual school districts;
(c) To improve educational performance through greater individual school autonomy and managerial flexibility; [and]
(e) To encourage innovation in education by providing local school communities and principals with greater control over levels of staffing, personnel selection and evaluation, scheduling, and educational programming with the goal of achieving improved student achievement. . . .

§ 22-32.5-102(2).

¶ 6 To meet these goals, a public school may submit an "innovation plan" to its local school board for approval. § 22-32.5-104(1)(a)-(b), C.R.S. 2014. Each innovation plan must include detailed information concerning, among other things, the school's mission, the innovations contemplated, an explanation of how the innovations would help the school achieve its mission, an estimate of cost savings and increased efficiencies, and a statement of the level of support by school employees, students, parents, and the community. § 22-32.5-104(3) and (4). In addition, each plan must provide evidence of majority consent to the plan by the administrators and teachers employed at each school, and from the school accountability committee (SAC). § 22-32.5-104(3)(f).

¶ 7 If the local school board approves the plan or plans, it may seek designation by the State Board of Education (state board) as a district of innovation on the basis of those plans. § 22-32.5-107(1), C.R.S. 2014. The state board must designate the school district as a district of innovation unless it concludes either that the plan is likely to result in a decrease in academic achievement within its schools or that the plan is not fiscally feasible. § 22-32.5-107(3)(a).

¶ 8 As relevant in this case, approval of an innovation plan by the local school board and the state board has two important consequences. Both of these consequences relieve the innovation school from a number of statutory, regulatory, and contractual restrictions.

¶ 9 First, designation waives the application of "any statutes or rules specified in the school district's innovation plan, " with limited enumerated exceptions not relevant here. § 22-32.5-108(1), C.R.S. 2014. Second, following designation by the state board, a secret ballot vote of the members of any collective bargaining unit who are employed at the innovation school is conducted concerning waivers of provisions of their collective bargaining agreement that were identified in the innovation plan as needed to implement the proposed innovations. Those waivers become effective if approved by at least sixty percent of the members. § 22-32.5-109(1)(a)-(b), C.R.S. 2014. Many of the waivers identified in the plans relate to issues of substantial significance to the Associations and their members. Examples include school calendars and schedules and teacher and staff hiring, assignments, evaluations, compensation, and dismissal.

II. Procedural History

¶ 10 The following facts are not disputed.

¶ 11 Fourteen schools submitted innovation plans that were approved and implemented by DPS between 2010 and 2012. The district court grouped the schools into three general categories: existing conversion schools; new conversion schools replacing legacy schools in turnaround status; and new schools. While the parties do not entirely agree with the labels the district court assigned these categories, we conclude that the categories provide a helpful basis for analysis.

(1) Existing conversion schools were already existing schools in which each school retained its original name, identification number, and student and parent population. These schools had been designated by DPS as in "turnaround" or "redesign" status. A school designated as "turnaround" or "redesign" retains its original name, but a new principal is hired who may hire new staff. In Colorado, a school that is failing to meet statewide or district performance targets may either be redesigned or closed. § 22-11-210(1)-(2), (5)(a)(V), C.R.S. 2014. The existing conversion schools identified by the district court are McGlone, Green Valley Ranch, and Trevista.

(2) New conversion schools replacing legacy schools in turnaround status consisted of newly formed schools with new names and identification numbers, which were being phased in to replace existing, but failing, turnaround/redesign schools that were still in existence but in the process of being closed at the time the innovation plans were submitted. The new conversion schools were to be located in the same buildings as their corresponding closing schools. At the time the innovation plans for these schools were submitted, each such school had a principal and, in some cases, one or two other administrative employees, but no students, faculty, or other employees. The new conversion schools are Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello, Collegiate Prep at Montbello, Denver Center for International Studies at Ford, Noel Community Arts, West Generation, and West Leadership.

(3) New schools were newly established and located in buildings that did not house existing schools at the time they submitted their innovation plans. Each also had only a principal and one or two other administrators, but no students, faculty, or other employees. None of these schools replaced any existing school or student and parent population. The new ...

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