By Steve Gunn
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