The Underside of Collective Bargaining in Schools

In the wake of Issue 2 Collective bargaining remains a controversial topic.  And despite last November’s outcome, collective bargaining remains a roadblock to effective budgeting and efficient government.  Most Ohioans, however, know very little about the issue or how the process actually plays out.

Following up on a great story by Mediatrackers Ohio, we thought that the recent debate in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school district provides an illustration of how the collective bargaining process can play out.  You be the judge if the negotiations reflect an attempt to improve education or an attempt to grow the power of the teacher unions.

The Brecksville-Broadview Heights teachers union recently voted to allow a strike. The strike vote occurred after contentious initial negotiations. The Board, which in five years projects a $15 million deficit, has encouraged citizens to visit their website for more information and to provide feedback during the negotiation process.

The teachers’ union in response argued that asking the community to visit the Board website for information is a violation of the collective bargaining law.  The Brecksville-Broadview Heights Education Association released a statement accusing the Board of being “far more concerned with parading the teacher’s contract through the streets of Brecksville-Broadview Heights than they are with educating our children.” .

The union has its own website, beesstaff.org, which is now restricted to members of the unions.

It appears that the union believes that voters should not have access to critical information that will have a direct impact on their community; that transparency is a “coercive” act on the part of the board.  This seems to turn the process on its head.

A short breakdown of the old agreement by Brecksville-Broadview Heights Superintendent Scot Prebles can be found on Youtube.  The current agreement, initial Board proposal, and initial union proposal are also online.

To the Board’s credit, they generally embrace many of the necessary changes included in Senate Bill 5. The Board’s proposal includes requiring teachers to cover a greater share of their insurance premiums, an end to automatic pay or “step” increases, and the flexibility to consider teacher performance when making necessary staff cuts.

Under the old agreement, taxpayers paid ninety percent of the premiums on medical, dental, and prescription drug plans.  Taxpayers also paid for a life insurance policy with coverage of $50,000.  The initial proposal by the Board during negotiations would reduce the percentage of premiums paid by taxpayers to eighty percent.  An initial proposal by the union would reduce the percentage by five percent, but the cut would not take effect until January 2015.

The initial Board proposal would also change the way layoffs occur. Under the prior agreement contracts were to be suspended in order from least to most senior with teacher performance playing no roll in layoff decisions. The Board’s current proposal includes language, which states, “No preference for seniority shall be given except when making a decision between teachers who have comparable evaluations.” Unlike most agreements under the current bargaining law, which in some cases favor luck over performance, the Board proposal allows teachers to stand on their merit when cuts must be made. The initial union proposal includes no such language.

The initial union proposal does include language, which would end a step freeze established in the prior agreement.  The prior agreement established an index freeze in pay, which halted the automatic annual raises typically received by teachers. While the union proposal would simply unfreeze the index and allow steps to occur automatically, with no input from teachers or education administrators, the Board proposal requires “prior specific mutual agreement of the parties” before a teacher can receive a raise.

The Board would change the computation for teacher salary not only by factoring in merit, but by making actual cuts into yearly raises received by teachers hired after July 1, 2012. Under the current agreement, a teacher with a Bachelor of Arts level education starting at $37,786  will reach $50,775 in yearly salary automatically upon reaching their sixth year of service.  After fifteen years of service, that same teacher will receive a yearly salary of $71,774. Under the Board proposal pay increases would happen at a slower pace over a longer period of time.  A teacher with a Bachelor of Arts level education would reach $50,325 at the seventeenth step.  On the thirty-fifth, and last step, a teacher would receive $68,165. Teachers hired prior to July 1, 2012 will keep the current level of step increases, but have base salary set at $37,786 not $39,786. Under the current system, a teacher with a Master’s Degree and forty-two semester hours of course work and fifteen years of service time will earn $90,434. Under the Board proposal that same teacher would earn $61,307 with the possibility of earning $85,888 upon reaching the thirty-fifth step.

The initial union agreement includes other onerous provisions, which increase union power at the expense of flexibility and fiscal sanity for the Board and taxpayers. Some examples of these provisions include:

  • The initial union proposal allows the union to “use school-owned equipment and email providing that: … The purpose is solely the legitimate and internal business of B.E.A. such as records, notices, communications and activities related to B.E.A. and OEA political issues, political campaigns and endorsed candidates, association activities as defined by the B.E.A. and correspondence that is not intended solely for public distribution.” [emphasis added].
  • Would expand the amount of release time from nineteen to thirty days per year, with absence requests submitted “[w]hen possible” at least one day prior to the absence.  The old agreement required in that “all absence requests shall be submitted to the Superintendent at least one (1) week prior to B.E.A. business meetings.” The President of the B.E.A. is given even more time to conduct union business. Under the proposed language “the B.E.A. President shall be granted a 1/3 reduction in class assignment for the purpose of conducting B.E.A. business.” 

(By the way, the Goldwater Institute of Arizona recently challenged successfully a release time provision for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association as a violation of the Arizona Constitution’s “gift clause.” http://goldwaterinstitute.org/article/money-nothing-phoenix-taxpayers-foot-bill-union-work.)

  •  The provision on working conditions would be largely rewritten. The union proposal would establish a seven and a half hour day as opposed to the eight hour day found in the Board proposal. The union proposal would also change language, which states, “Teachers are expected to carry out their professional responsibilities and obligations which extend beyond [sufficient time for performance of their duty]“ to “Teachers shall be compensated at their prorated per diem rate for any professional responsibilities and obligations which extend beyond the contracted day.”
  • Leave is greatly increased. The amount of days provided for personal leave would be increased and any restriction on the use of those days would be removed. Under the initial union proposal, personal days have been increased from three to four. All restrictions would be removed and “teachers shall not have to provide any reason for the use of unrestricted personal leave.” The teachers can use unused personal days to further pad their compensation either through a cash payment of $300 dollars a semester if no days were used, or a conversion to sick leave, which can be accumulated without limitation. Under the union proposal, in 2015 a teacher can convert twenty-eight percent of a maximum of ninety-eight accrued sick days into a lump sum severance payment based on their “daily rate of pay at the time of retirement.” [emphasis added]
  • The Superintendent has been completely removed from all responsibility. Throughout the initial union proposed contract “Director of Human Resources” has replaced the term “Superintendent.”  The Superintendent has been removed from grievance proceedings, disciplinary meetings, assigning a teacher to home after serious infractions, changes in allotted lunch time, teacher assignments, oversight of teacher responsibility, and approval of sick days and other forms of leave, among other procedures.

Despite the BEA accusation that the city only wanted to “drag their contract through the streets” it is important to keep in mind that collective bargaining agreements are public records and for good reason. Taxpayers have a right to know the content of agreements that are negotiated on their behalf and impact their community.

A cursory glance at the agreement, as well as the initial proposals on each side, might illuminate why the union is reluctant for the public to see the details but transparency and accountability remain critical to effective governance.

It is also worth noting that it is exactly negotiations like this one that drive up the cost of education and government. Without real collective bargaining reform public sector unions throughout the state will continue to keep taxpayers in the dark while sticking them with the bill.

Of course, it will “be all for the kids”, right?

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