Freedom Foundation
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Grading The Teacher Union Contracts

Research conducted by the Freedom Foundation shows that union bargaining over district policies and budget priorities harms services to students.

The reach of policy matters decided in collective bargaining in school districts is extensive and includes the student calendar, programmatic offerings, staff deployment practices, class sizes, employee evaluations, parent rights and district budgeting priorities.

To consider the impact of union influence in schools, the Freedom Foundation analyzed teachers’ union bargaining agreements for the largest 45 school districts serving 677,000 students for the 2013-14 school year. 

A host of variables offer opportunity for evaluating collective bargaining agreements. In recent years, much has been written about the impact of union demands related to tenure, seniority privileges and employee evaluation. This analysis does not seek to duplicate that work, but instead identified seven other values and quantified bargaining-agreement provisions adversely impacting those values.

They include:

  • levy spending priorities;
  • financial responsibility;
  • student-centered calendar;
  • class size;
  • wage fairness;
  • employee choice; and,
  • reliable service, i.e., free of work stoppages.

An explanation of the elements of the grading system is available here.

The completed analysis presenting scored items and a letter grade for each district is available here.

The key findings:

  • A significant share of levy funds are used for wage increases.
    • On average, $517 per student of levy and other discretionary funds is diverted to wage increases, and yet specified additional services are not required to earn these funds. 
    • The wage increases for which no duties are specified or scheduled range from 3 percent of pay to 37 percent of pay.
    • On average, these wage increases would require 17 percent of a district’s levy, but five districts would need more than a third of their levy to cover these costs.
    • Nearly half the districts also use levy funds to enhance fringe benefits.
    • Four out of five districts grant personal leave days which may be cashed out if the teacher works their entire contracted year. In eight of these districts, the rate of cashing out will be at 1/180th of annual salary.
  • Four out of five districts have escalating payroll costs resulting from collective bargaining agreements.
  • Local school boards often agree to contracts that reflect the interests of employees at the expense of education services.
    • Four out of five districts have shortened the school year or have more than 20 significantly shortened school days. Eight districts have both.
    • Four out of five districts are able to give pay increases for oversized classes rather than reduce class sizes.
    • Only three districts specify consequences for work stoppages; three districts expressly allow unscheduled work stoppages or strikes.
  • Local school boards often agree to contracts that reflect the interests of the union negotiators at the expense of teachers—particularly young teachers.
    • All districts force at least the young teachers to pay the union.
    • Four out of five districts force their employees to buy fringe benefits which are typically optional.
    • Seven districts lower the wages of young teachers below the state-provided allocation in order to increase the base wage of higher-paid teachers.
    • One out of four districts give higher wage enhancements to the best-paid teachers.
    • Two out of three districts give extra bonuses to top-paid teachers to reward longevity.
  • School contracts reflect a surprisingly limited variety of approaches.
    • The highest score was the Vancouver School District, with a grade of “B” and a score of 34 of 48 possible.
    • The low score was the Monroe School District, with a grade of “F” and a score of 12.
    • Average score was 25.

Recommendations

  • Citizens should elect school directors who can be counted on to support those values that families and taxpayers desire to see reflected in their local schools’ bargaining agreements.
  • School leaders should enlist public support for new directions in employee bargaining agreements. When beginning the bargaining process, negotiators should be directed to seek specific changes reflecting the values and operational priorities which serve families. Districts with existing language which better reflects those priorities should be emulated. When proposing a levy, a policy or resolution should be passed to commit those proposed funds to specific services to remove bargaining pressure to raid them for raises.
  • Lawmakers should limit the scope of bargaining to protect the values of services to families, fiscal responsibility, employee fairness and employee choice. The Olympian newspaper published our editorial making the case for legislative action to remove the union’s ability to siphon resources for wage enhancements, “Legislature needs to fix education funding leak.”

On April 17, Freedom Foundation had the opportunity to present the problem to lawmakers in testimony.

Freedom Foundation’s Jami Lund testified on behalf of SB 6109, a bill which would curb the ability of union officials to capture local levies among other provisions.

Opinion Editorial in the Olympian describes the funding system damage caused by union officials diversion of funds to compensation increases.

Legislature needs to fix education funding leak” Jami Lund for The Olympian, April 27, 2015

This report, “Grading the Teachers Union Contracts” follows earlier work completed by the Freedom Foundation.

Collective Bargaining in Public Schools: Turning the Focus to Students, 2000

School Directors’ Handbook, 2002  (the chapter regarding collective bargaining)

See also:

Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table, 1998, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Contract for Failure: The Impact of Union Contracts on the Quality of California Schools, 2002, Pacific Research Institute

Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts, 2005, The New Teachers Project

Teacher Contracts: Restoring the Balance, 2005The Education Partnership

A Better Bargain: Overhauling Teacher Collective Bargaining for the 21st CenturyHess & West, 2006

Strike Phobia: School boards need to drive a harder bargain, Education Next, Hess & West, 2006

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Teacher Quality, Center for Education Data & Research