Collective bargaining as it is currently practiced must change to meet the increasing public demand for greater student achievement, lower costs, and more accountability in education. School board members and teacher union officials must redefine their relationship to again focus on their primary responsibility of delivering a quality education to every child entrusted to the public schools.

Where school board members have been well informed and properly prepared to address union proposals, collective bargaining has been a successful vehicle for improving employee benefits while maintaining the educational welfare of students. Unfortunately, too many districts are operating under bargaining agreements that include language detrimental to both of these goals. Student performance and employee protection both suffer as a result.

Michigan school boards must therefore thoroughly research and understand the implications of the 1994 changes in collective bargaining law as well as relevant court cases and legal decisions made by administrative bodies such as MERC. Armed with this information, district negotiators should then thoroughly review union contract language with an eye toward renegotiating or eliminating altogether any clauses that

  • restrict the board's management rights;

  • confer unnecessary and exclusive privileges to unions

  • misdirect scarce resources away from educational goals;

  • surrender education policy decision-making abilities to unions;

  • establish unreasonably restrictive teacher discipline, evaluation, and discharge procedures;

  • agree to expensive employee benefits that could be provided at lower cost;

  • mandate unfair, morale-sapping salary schedules; or

  • abandon the district's obligations to protect its employees' constitutional rights.

Every school district now has the ability through careful collective bargaining to effect reforms that will help meet the demands of parents, taxpayers, students, and teachers themselves. School board members in Michigan's 583 school districts must seize the opportunity to transform the bargaining process from an adversarial one into one more focused on cooperatively improving the educational product, increasing value, and protecting the rights of all concerned.