Friday, November 26, 2010

Nevada Legislature May Open School Contract Negotiations to the Public

By Steve Gunn
EAG Communications
CARSON CITY, Nevada - Public schools are struggling financially, partially due to the high costs imposed on them by teachers' collective bargaining agreements.
     Unfortunately the public doesn't know very much about this problem. That's partly because local reporters never take the time to read the contracts and share their findings with the public. Another problem is that collective bargaining negotiations are often conducted behind closed doors.
     That's why we were delighted to note that Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed a bill that would make collective bargaining sessions for local public employees, including teachers, open to the public.
     We hope the bill gets a fair hearing in the state legislature, and sparks similar proposals in statehouses around the nation.
     In far too many school districts, school board members and union bosses negotiate over taxpayer money, while keeping the taxpayers locked out of the room. As we stated in a press release earlier this week, that would be like Congress debating a spending bill behind closed doors.
     We've read too many news stories from around the nation, telling us about protesting teachers carrying signs that say things like "teachers work hard" or "teachers deserve raises." But when reporters ask them exactly what they want, and how much it will cost their district, they suddenly clam up.
     The unions want public support, but they don't want to give citizens the information they need to formulate intelligent opinions. Perhaps that's because union leaders are afraid they will appear self-serving, particularly during the current recession, which has forced local school boards to save every dime possible for student instruction.
     If negotiations sessions were open to the public, citizens could learn just how much money is spent on various provisions in union contracts. They could learn how much their districts could save if teachers, like so many workers in the private sector, would agree to make some temporary concessions.
     Rank-and-file teachers could also learn about their unions' demands, and the tactics employed by their union leaders. Quite often the membership is not in sync with union leaders, and that becomes clear when details of negotiations bubble to the surface.
     Earlier this year in Milwaukee, for example, an award-winning first-year teacher was laid off because her union refused to switch to a less expensive health insurance provider. The teacher told a local newspaper that she would have contacted her union leaders and encouraged them to compromise on insurance, if she had known the issue might result in so many teacher layoffs.
     Perhaps if negotiations were open to the public, more union leaders would quickly amend their list of demands, which would save schools a lot of money. It's easy to be greedy behind locked doors. How pushy would they be with taxpayers and reporters watching and recording their words?
I'd welcome transparency in the collective bargaining process here in CT. It would be an eye opener for many. - Tony


Anonymous said...

How many contract negotiations have you been through? Just wondering way you look at them so unfavorably. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think what Tony was trying to do was to share an article with us readers.
His only comment was that the process could be an eye opener for many.
What's wrong with that? I, as a taxpayer, would like to know more about the negotiation process. I'd think many people would also want to know. Maybe we'd all be surprised and it might not necessarily be in an unfavorable way as you seem to allude to. Is there something wrong with the sharing of information??

Tim White said...

This issue of secrecy has annoyed me for years.

I have no idea how many negotiations in which Tony has been involved. But I haven't been through any. Nonetheless, when you consider the magnitude of the teachers contract in relation to the town budget, it makes absolutely no sense to me why the negotiations are so secretive.

Granted, individuals could come up during negotiations. But then just enter executive session for those parts.

The secrecy required for all the negotiations is ridiculous in my opinion. Too much taxpayer money is at stake for all the closed door secrecy.

Transparency is a good government issue. One need not have experienced corruption to know it is wrong. And one need not have experienced a secret negotiating session to know it's inappropriate and unnecessary.

Furthermore, it would have benefits in other ways. For example, last October there was an article in the NHR about some discussions between the police union and town management. In it, Deegan basically called the TM a liar. The TM's response? "I don't have time to respond."

If those union discussions had been open to the public, it's entirely possible that we'd know exactly what was said... instead of a simply an accusation and a non-denial denial.

Tim White said...

And there's another benefit.

I doubt you'd have the nonsense... whoops... I mean "negotiating" that has the union starting at 8% and the management starting at 0%. Both sides know neither number is in play. But I think they like to seem busy. So they waste a bunch of taxpayer money (including administrative time) on these stupid "negotiating tactics."

But then I think being upfront with someone makes sense. And I'm "just a kid," so obviously our VIPs knew I was wrong to make such suggestions as being upfront with the unions and starting with something realistic.

I suggest opening up negotiations because I'm certain that -- at minimum -- we'd reduce our attorney fees.

Tim White said...

well... a zero may be in play now, but not two or three years ago. I think Obama announced zero's for federal unions today.

Tony Perugini said...

"well... a zero may be in play now, but not two or three years ago. I think Obama announced zero's for federal unions today."

I don't expect any help from the one and only organization left that we need help from the most.

Forget about zero percent. Obama may be setting an example but Hartford isn't following example.

And since we're somewhat on the topic of budget, I expect this upcoming budget cycle to be worse than last year. No, I'm not crying "Chapman is closing" here but do know this year will be worse than last in terms of budget. Looking forward to January.

I do want to thank the instructional assistants, custodial and administrator's unions for their help and understanding. Though these groups are more or less a drop in the bucket (budget) they get it and put the students' needs ahead of their own.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you on the Board of EDUCATION? The "one group" that you are referencing hasn't had a negotiation since your tenure. How do you know that they won't help out? Haven't they already made offers and taken alternate health plans to save the town money? Maybe the "one group" is the town council?

Tony Perugini said...

7:21 your facts are incorrect. Since my tenure, the BOE has had discussions with the teachers union leadership. Both in 2009 and again in 2010.

The union leadership has not made any offers that are in the best interest of the students. Regarding the health plans, the HSA's are an option (not mandatory) and some in the union have taken advantage of it. But it's a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things. The HSA plan is not the saving grace though it helps.

The union leadership has indicated no concessions of any kind for the 2010-2011 school year. This fact was announced by BOE Chairman Brittingham during tonight's meeting.