Improved school collective bargaining contracts would allow good teachers to be better rewarded and give teachers more professional autonomy, according to study author and former union president La Rae G. Munk.
Michigan school districts could channel more education resources into the classroom and improve teachers' working conditions by renegotiating poorly worded labor contracts, according to a study released in August by the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
The 83-page study analyzes collective bargaining agreements between teachers' unions and all of Michigan's 583 school districts and recommends that school boards bargain with unions to modify eight provisions found in the majority of the agreements.
The recommendations advise school boards to strengthen management rights clauses to give more control to administrators, eliminate union security clauses that force school employees to pay union dues, and take advantage of laws that allow competitive bidding for teacher health benefits, which are typically the second-largest school budget item.
Attorney and study author La Rae G. Munk, a former public school teacher and labor union president, said that labor agreements can negatively affect school administrators' ability to manage their schools and teachers' professional flexibility in educating their students.
"School board members must approach the bargaining table with the same determination, skill, and understanding exhibited by the unions' full-time, professional negotiators," she said. "This study will help them negotiate contracts that allow administrators to direct maximum resources to the classroom and create a more professional and rewarding workplace for teachers."
The school districts' contract documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said Munk. According to the study
More than 90 percent of school labor contracts limit the ability of administrators to appropriately match teachers to classrooms.
More than 50 percent establish class size maximums.
More than 95 percent base teacher salaries on seniority rather than job performance.
Most require tenured teachers to be evaluated only once every three years.
All subject school employees to mandatory union dues payments but do not properly inform them of their constitutional rights to refrain from paying union dues and joining a union.
Michigan Association of School Boards Director of Labor Relations Sue Dumala said in a Detroit Free Press story that the study contained "good information for novice board members."
National Education Association President Bob Chase, however, summarily dismissed the study in his public remarks before the Governor's Education Summit in Lansing in September.
The Michigan Negotiators Association, a group that helps schools with collective bargaining and labor issues, distributed the study to each of its 400 members. Free copies of the study were also sent to all 4,200 Michigan school board members.
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.