This survey suggests that simply expecting school districts to unilaterally change the way that they collectively bargain results in a hodgepodge of outcomes, some of which seem to conflict with the goals of the Legislature. This type of response is not unprecedented; there are previously documented accounts of districts bargaining over other prohibited subjects of bargaining, such as the decision to contract out noninstructional services.
The most important takeaway for policymakers is that implementation and enforcement of new policies are critical to effectively make change. Policymakers should consider whether the types of attempts to comply with the 2011 reforms outlined above are sufficient, and if not, they should consider attaching some sort of financial penalty on districts that fail to comply with state law.
A different law that was passed in 2011 provides a good example of how an enforcement mechanism could work. Public Act 152, which limits the amount school districts can spend on employee health insurance, contains a specific penalty for noncompliant districts. Under the law, districts found to be noncompliant will have their state aid reduced by 10 percent. Based on the survey of the same districts used to evaluate Public Acts 100, 101, 102 and 103 of 2011, most districts appear compliant with Public Act 152’s requirements. It is possible that this is due to the strict financial penalty contained within the law.
The widespread compliance with Public Act 152 of 2011 observed as part of this survey stands in stark contrast with how districts attempted to comply with the new prohibited subjects of bargaining regarding teacher placement and evaluation. In an attempt to increase compliance, policymakers could provide minor funding for a random review of a select number of collective bargaining agreements each year by qualified attorneys, with fines for districts found to be noncompliant.
The state could also allow taxpayers to challenge noncompliant districts on the grounds that taxpayer funds are being misused. This would open up districts to the threat of challenge, and could encourage compliance.
At minimum, policy leaders could take a thorough look at contracts that appear the least compliant in an effort to understand why so many districts chose to bargain in some way over prohibited subjects. Why, for example, would a district administrator agree to keep prohibited language within a contract with a clause stating that it would take immediate effect if the 2011 reforms were struck down?
Policymakers may also want to consider why so many district administrators failed to strip out noncompliant language. There may be incentives in current policy that encourage such behavior. Perhaps district officials were unaware of their ability to remove prohibited language and were out-maneuvered by coordinated strategies used by union officials.