Not here, though. This is happening in Suburban Detroit, Michigan.
In Escambia County, Florida, these contract negotiations are super top secret affairs done behind closed doors, with pomp, ceremony, district board appointed “bargaining teams” and very little visibility by the public. Everyone is warned about discussing these negotiations to include duly elected School Board Members. The board is forewarned and admonished to not speak at all about any facet of district/union talks---- period, break, and end of text.
I find this to be quite odd, although I know it is the way things have always been done around here. I happen to have a different take on this. Even within the constraints of respecting every law, rule, and regulation surrounding bargaining—there has got to be a way to make the process more open. There has to be a way to lay out the facts and let the public decide, to the extent permissible under the law, because continued open dialogue can lead to solutions.
Sometimes—most times—when two parties to an issue get hung-up, a good thing to do is to increase transparency so that maximum exposure to all sides of a problem can be shown to the public. This is especially applicable when taxpayer money is on the line, in my opinion. When open, public discourse and debate occurs-- often times this sort of transparent dialogue can spur progress between two sides of an issue, even when the chasm between two opposing sides seems insuperable. The court of public opinion is strong and can often times efface even the most stubborn gridlock.
I like the way the chief negotiator from the Southfield Public School district in suburban Detroit, Michigan does it. From the Sunday, December 21, 2008 Southfield Observer and Eccentric:
“Any settlement of Southfield Public Schools union contracts will likely have to wait until the New Year, though the district's chief negotiator has clearly spelled out his side's positions. Those positions include lump sum annual increases, rather than raises, caps on health care payments to union members and greater flexibility in hiring and laying off staff. Floyd Allen, the district's chief negotiator, said that Michigan's uncertain economy and the district's continual loss of students weigh heavily in its bargaining positions. The district seeks to freeze wages at 2007-08 levels, he said, with lump sum increases to be awarded only if student enrollment increases. The wage freeze, Allen said, is "reasonable given student enrollment declines.”Unions, he added, have asked for 5 percent raises. Allen discussed negotiations with district teachers, secretaries and support staff at the Dec. 9 school board meeting, the last regularly meeting of 2008. Ted Peters, chief negotiator for the Southfield Education Association teachers union, said he was surprised Allen was both so public and so specific in his comments. "These are things that usually stay at the bargaining table," Peters said.”
I’m sure Ted Peters likes these things to “stay at the bargaining table”—I, however, like the idea of a more open process, because taxpayer’s (read: BOSS’S) dollars can be unnecessarily at stake if negotiations get strung out. Whether we’re talking about Oakland County, Michigan or Escambia County, Florida—parties to public school contract negotiations are making decisions about how public taxpayer dollars are spent and should be mindful of this fact. The avidity for Pyrrhic victories at the bargaining table, by either District or Teacher’s Union, serves no good purpose—but rather is a disservice to STUDENTS and TAXPAYERS.
Read the full article on the Southfield, Michigan issue here:
I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.