Study: Eight Ways to Improve School Labor Contracts to Help Public Education

Contracts Analyzed from All 583 Michigan School Districts

MIDLAND—A Midland-based research group today released a study analyzing the effects of school collective bargaining agreements on the quality and cost of public education.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy study analyzes collective bargaining agreements between teachers' unions and all of Michigan's 583 school districts. The analyses show how these agreements affect administrators' ability to manage their schools and teachers' professional flexibility in educating their students.

The 83-page study by attorney La Rae G. Munk, a former public school teacher and labor union president, contains labor contract and financial data from every Michigan school district. The analyses of contracts found that

  • more than 90% limit ability of school administration to appropriately match teachers to classrooms;

  • more than 50% establish class size maximums;

  • fewer than 5% allow a performance-based component of teacher compensation;

  • most require tenured teachers to be evaluated only once every three years;

  • all subject school employees to mandatory union dues payments; and

  • none properly informs teachers of their constitutional rights to refrain from paying union dues and joining a union.

"Collective bargaining agreements are important because they dramatically affect administrators' ability to run their schools, teachers' ability to run their classrooms, and students' ability to take advantage of educational resources," said Munk.

The study recommends that school boards bargain for specific improvements in eight key provisions found in the vast majority of the labor agreements. The recommendations include

  • strengthening "management rights" clauses to give school administrators more authority to deploy teachers and other resources where they can be most effective;

  • avoiding "union security" clauses that make schools act as union dues collection agents; and

  • taking advantage of laws that allow competitive bidding for employee health benefits, which are typically the second-largest school budget item.

Munk said, "This study will help school board members approach the bargaining table with the same determination, skill, and understanding exhibited by the unions' full-time, professional negotiators. Well informed board members can negotiate contracts that direct maximum resources to the classroom and create a more professional and rewarding workplace for teachers."

School districts provided the contract documents for analysis in response to Mackinac Center requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The study is the first ever to analyze all of the collective bargaining agreements of the hundreds of school districts in a state. All 4,200 Michigan school board members will receive the study.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a ten-year-old, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute. The study, Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table, may be obtained at no charge via the Internet at www.mackinac.org or for $10 by calling (989) 631-0900.