March 11-17 is Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” One government body that deserves praise for embracing a spirit of transparency is Oakridge Public Schools, just east of Muskegon.
The Oakridge Board of Education has taken the bold step of posting online a timeline of negotiations with all three collective bargaining groups with which the district does business. By visiting the district website, concerned residents can see not only what kind of progress is being made in negotiations, but also specific details of the proposals made by both the board and the various unions. This level of transparency is especially helpful when negotiations turn contentious: when one side accuses the other of negotiating in bad faith, there is a fast and easy resource for voters and the media to determine whether the accusations are true.
Unlike bargaining between a private business and its union, the public has a right to know the details of public school labor negotiations. These are publicly elected officials deciding how to allocate public tax dollars with government employees. Schools like Oakridge and Traverse City should be applauded for their efforts to introduce more transparency to the process and should serve as a model for districts across the state.