Cherry Creek School Board drafts policy moving bus assistants closer to a union

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Cherry Creek bus assistants rally outside Infinity Middle School Monday evening before the district’s June 13 school board meeting. The assistants have been lobbying for the past four months for the district to recognize their union. Photo by CARINA JULIG/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | The Cherry Creek School District has drafted a policy detailing a procedure for how a new bargaining unit can become certified, bringing the district’s bus assistants one step closer to their goal of forming a recognized union.

It is unclear, however, when the board will vote on the policy, leaving the union in a state of limbo over the summer.

Bus assistants work with bus drivers to maintain order on district school buses and provide support to students, particularly those who have disabilities or other special needs. For the past four months they have been organizing to form a union, driven largely by frustrations over their pay, which begins at $14.31 per hour according to information on the district’s website.

According to the Colorado Education Association, which has been supporting the union drive, nearly 80% of the district’s bus assistants have signed union cards. Bus assistants in the Jefferson County, Boulder Valley and Westminster school districts have union representation.

The district classifies bus assistants as paraprofessionals, though the assistants are hoping to join the bus drivers in the Cherry Creek Transportation Employees Association, which has supported their efforts.

“We’re not para(professionals), we don’t teach kids on the bus,” said Heather Music, one of the union organizers.  

Music, who will start her 25th year as a bus assistant on June 19, said that after over two decades with the district she still makes under $20 an hour. She knew that the board wouldn’t take a vote at the meeting, but she said she hoped board members would listen to what they had to say.

Music told The Sentinel that the union has reached out to the board members in the interim and would love to meet with them, but so far have only received one response and have not had any in person meetings.

Before the Monday evening school board meeting at Infinity Middle School, about two dozen union members rallied outside the building, chanting and holding signs reading “union recognition is respect” and “respect us, recognize us.” Kevin Vick, vice president of the Colorado Education Association, praised the union members for their work over the past several months.

“The fact that they have drafted a policy is due to you guys,” he said.

The new policy was included in the agenda for the Monday meeting as information for future approval. 

During public comment, union members and their supporters once again addressed the board, with several asking them to commit to taking a vote at its August meeting.

“If you guys can’t support them, you’re going to lose them,” said Joan Thompson of the bus assistants, who spoke in support of the union. 

The board members did not discuss the policy at all during the meeting or make any mention of when it might come up for a vote. 

Board members and Superintendent Chris Smith declined to speak to The Sentinel Monday night, instead directing a question about when the policy will be voted on to the district communications team. On Tuesday, a district spokesperson said the board is anticipated to approve the policy at its next meeting.

Monday’s meeting was the last of the 2021-2022 school year. The first meeting of the upcoming school year is scheduled for Monday, August 8 at Fox Ridge Middle School.

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