More Problems with Ferndale Teacher Contract

Ignores state laws regarding seniority, evaluations

The Ferndale school district's collective bargaining agreement made headlines recently because it gives preference to applicants of "the non-Christian faith."

Under media scrutiny, Ferndale officials said they "somehow missed" the discriminatory language. Fortunately, they have now removed it.

But large portions of Ferndale's contract still appear to be in violation of other state laws. Ferndale is one of an estimated 60 percent of Michigan districts that have worked to preserve collective bargaining language that is prohibited by state law.

A series of recent reforms were passed in an attempt to make it easier for district officials to retain and reward effective teachers. Under Public Act 103, a state law that went into effect in July 2011, districts and their unions may not collectively bargain over teacher placement, layoff, recall and evaluation policies, among other things. Public Act 102 of the same year prohibits using only seniority to make personnel decisions.

When Ferndale extended its contract in February 2014, the district made sure to remove a contract provision that violated Michigan's new right-to-work law for teachers (although it didn't do the same for adult education teachers). But district officials have also "somehow missed" large volumes of the district contract that are in violation of these earlier state laws.

Under Ferndale's contract: 

The question for Ferndale is whether the district will fix all portions of its contract that violate state law, instead of simply addressing the provision that has captured media attention.

Clearly, those negotiating on behalf of Ferndale have failed to consider at least four different state laws, including Michigan's Civil Rights Act, which banned Ferndale's discriminatory language.

By keeping prohibited and unenforceable language, Ferndale, like several other districts, has a contract in place that is effectively a meaningless document. And though district officials sit down every couple of years to renegotiate, it took nearly four decades and a deluge of media attention to spur Ferndale to remove just one of those portions.

What, exactly, will it take to motivate Ferndale and other district officials to comply fully with these other Michigan laws?