The governor has recently been presented with a package of four
bills that overhaul teacher tenure. One of the bills has not been commented on as
much as it probably should have. For once,
though, the surprise is a pretty good one.
House Bill 4628
amends the Public Employment Relations Act
to prohibit collective bargaining over some key education personnel issues, such
as teacher placement, evaluation procedures, layoffs and merit pay. These changes
are critical because they should prevent union officials from “vetoing” the Legislature
through the collective bargaining process.
MEA and MFT officials have used collective bargaining authority
to thwart reforms in the past. In one memorable case, the MEA refused to sign “memoranda
of understanding” that would have signaled their acceptance of merit pay, torpedoing Michigan’s application for federal
“Race to the Top” grants. This time the Legislature seems to have learned from
its prior mistakes; by removing the subjects of tenure and teacher placement from
collective bargaining, they are attempting to make these changes union-veto-proof.
The process of collective bargaining allows union officials to
influence terms of employment. In the public sector, this can be used to influence
how government itself functions. As we’ve noted on more than one occasion, the result
is a “union veto,” in which contract terms tie the hands of local officials. (Go
here for a more detailed explanation
of how the union veto works.) Fortunately, this time the Legislature has opted to
make sure that school boards hands remain untied; teachers unions should be unable
to negotiate contract terms that prevent districts from using the power that the
new tenure law gives them.
The overall tenure package leaves something to be desired; principals
cannot refuse to place ineffective teachers, meaning that ineffective teachers can
still be shuffled from school to school (the “dance of the lemons”) or put on paid
leave for long stretches, receiving full pay while not teaching (the “rubber rooms”).
A word of caution is in order about the bill’s enforcement as well; the bill doesn’t
provide penalties for unions or school boards that try to violate the limits on
bargaining, or assign anyone with the task of policing union contracts.
Still, by changing PERA, the Legislature greatly improved the
chances that the reforms it did pass will actually take effect. Overall this
should leave districts with more flexibility to reward high-performing teachers
and ease incompetent teachers into another line of work.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.
Permission to reprint any comments below is granted only for those comments written by Mackinac Center policy staff.