One of the ongoing themes here is government transparency, and this week seems to be bringing the onslaught. I’ve written about the State Board not wanting to hold a public vote on the litigation surrounding the governor’s property tax hike, and the Democratic legislative caucus holding an allegedly illegal private meeting.
But then there’s a story I missed from a few days ago. The editors of the Colorado Springs Gazette highlighted an effort to open up negotiations in one of the state’s largest school districts:
Bob Null has a reasonable request that would serve the interests of all who pay taxes to Colorado Springs District 11 Schools. As a member of the D-11 school board, Null wants to sit in on the upcoming union negotiations between school administrators and the Colorado Springs Education Association.
Null has asked, but he can’t get an answer. One fellow board member suggested that Null meet with school administrators occasionally during their negotiations, so that he can report back to the board. Not good enough.
It’s hard to believe the board hasn’t made a regular practice of appointing a member to sit in on the negotiations, which determine teacher compensation, benefits, working conditions, and a variety of other issues that directly affect children, taxpayers and the board. All teacher agreements are three-party contracts, involving teachers, the union and the school board….
The union contract is negotiated in closed-door meetings between union officials and a team of school administrators. No members of the public are involved.
Unfortunately for me, it isn’t hard to believe – not to say that common sense doesn’t dictate negotiations should be open, but I’ve just observed too much about how the system typically works to be surprised. The Gazette is pointing out a problem bigger than just its own backyard.
What kind of things should the taxpaying public be aware of that are inside the District 11 contract?
Past contracts, seemingly rubber stamped by the board, have been of questionable value to students and teachers, and great value to the union. Contracts have given the union the right to use any school’s communication system. Contracts have allowed the union full use of other school facilities and services as well, at no cost. The contracts extend the union a monopoly, forbidding any other entity or person, such as a lawyer, from serving as the bargaining agent for any professional staff, whether or not they belong to the union. The contracts have allowed paid leave for union officers to attend union functions – for the sole benefit of the union.
Union contracts with D-11 have required the district to deduct union dues from teachers’ paychecks. This, of course, puts the entire cost and burden of collection squarely on the district – for the sole benefit of the union. Why not insist that the union collect its own dues?
One of the worst provisions has involved a line that typically reads like this: “Voluntary authorization on the part of such teacher shall be deemed to have occurred unless proper written notice to the contrary is provided to the District and the Association on a jointly approved form.”
It’s the notorious automatic membership clause, in which teachers become automatic members, with automatically extorted dues, unless they jump through hoops to get out during a small window that come along once a year. Teachers are busy. Instead of fussing over forms to protect their pay, they typically concern themselves with students. During the opt-out window, they’re making curriculum plans, designing classrooms, learning the names of students and parents. The automatic membership clause favors the union entirely, without regard for teachers or the district.
A hefty portion of dues taken from teacher paychecks go for leftist lobbying efforts that often have nothing to do with public education. Teachers who object are told they can opt out, but only when that window comes around in the busy, busy fall.
I’ve written about many of these issues for the Independence Institute. While the degree of the abuses and the form they take vary from place to place, this is certainly not a condition isolated to Colorado Springs. It’s always good to see a little more sunshine on the problem, and hopefully some real sunshine on the backroom bargains that impose these policies on our schools.