School Bargaining Best Practices

School Bargaining Best Practices

School Bargaining Best Practices

In many school districts at this time of the year, school leaders begin to focus on negotiating an agreement with the employees of the school district.

The Freedom Foundation advocates for local control of government decision-making, but this position means that local leaders need to stand for the best practices. School boards often fail to stand against the special interest agenda pushed by the unions.

Union “wins” at the bargaining table impacts children. Student services are eroded by funding diverted to pay raises. Their time with their teachers is sacrificed to employee perks like vacation time, large class pay bonuses and a schedule full of partial school days or a shortened school year. Their chances of being stuck with the occasional poor-performing teacher are higher. If they are in a low-income neighborhood, their chances of getting an experienced teacher with a history of excellence are lowered. And the likelihood of having their school disrupted by a strike is increased.

The Freedom Foundation has documented many areas school boards should consider in these publications:

Collective Bargaining In Public Schools: Grading the Teachers Union Contracts

The School Director’s Handbook” (particularly the chapter on collective bargaining).

Collective Bargaining In Public Schools: Turning the Focus to Students” (and related commentaries).

The subject of strikes and how to protect children’s services from them is of keen interest because of the current batch of walkout stunts organized by the Washington Education Association to protest the spending priorities of the 18 percent increase in school funding.

As reported by KPLU, WEA plans on spending up to $786,000 on strikes again next fall if “if the legislature fails to make adequate progress toward the full funding of educator compensation and class size reduction in this 2015 legislative session.”

The school board can adopt contract language to safeguard students from adults who want to disrupt the state’s paramount duty. Such a provision might look like this sample language.

Other ideas for your district’s bargaining team include:


  • Conduct a community survey to identify the interests of patrons to guide bargaining
  • Let teachers decide whether or not to pay union dues to give them more accountable representation
  • Pass a clear, service-focused levy spending resolution to guarantee that levy funds are off the bargaining table
  • Develop a fair system to give building leaders the ability to evaluate educators based on student learning growth
  • Allow the public to attend collective bargaining sessions as they do in Oregon or at least post proposals, issues and impacts of those positions to patrons
  • Make a way for placement and retention decisions to be made on some basis other than seniority
  • Define a range of offenses which count as presumed “just cause” for adverse action or dismissal
  • Include a strong “management rights” section to keep decision-making with your professional administrators
  • Define consequences for illegal work stoppages/strikes
  • Add entire student-free workdays for defined collaboration or professional responsibilities rather than partial days
  • Provide stipends for hard to fill positions or extraordinary skills rather than uniform wage increases
  • Subtract personal leave from sick leave and cash it out on the same basis
  • Use the Public Employee Benefit Board’s preapproved health plans


  • Escalate levy-funded wage and perk enhancements from finite funds
  • Provide unverified TRI, Responsibility Contracts, or other wage enhancement without an accompanying service expansion
  • Use the levy to subsidize of the insurance benefit pool
  • Get waivers to shorten the school year while paying TRI for unaccountable days
  • Provide regressive pay bonuses—highest paid getting the highest percentage or stipends for nothing more than many years’ service
  • Subsidize the union by paying their officers for their special interest work
  • Permit the “double-dip” by paying TRI for a day that is within the 180 state-paid days
  • Let employees (rather than managers) decide whether pay bonuses are to be the remedy for oversized classes
  • Exclude volunteers or parents from participating in school
  • Use technology levy funds as wage bonuses
  • Permit employee-directed use of time on half days
  • Give employees no choice on traditionally optional benefits like life insurance
  • Cede the authority of elected policymakers to employees
Senior Policy Analyst
Jami Lund is the Freedom Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst. From 2004 to 2011, he developed legislative policy as a research analyst for the Washington House Republican Caucus. Prior to that he worked for the Freedom Foundation as the Project Manager for the Teachers Paycheck Protection project, shepherding the development of the Foundation’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court case to protect teacher rights. Jami is an accomplished speaker and researcher, one of Washington state’s top scholars on education policy and finance.