Majority of State’s Largest School Districts Have Language Prohibited by State Law in Their Contracts; Includes Teacher Evaluations, Layoffs, Seniority

‘School leaders may not fully be aware of the latitude they have to improve the quality of teaching in their schools’

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Ted O'Neil
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND — As many as 60 percent of public school districts in Michigan could be in violation of a state law passed in 2011 that made decisions about teacher placement and evaluation prohibited subjects of bargaining, according to a new Mackinac Center for Public Policy study released today.

The Center surveyed 130 school district collective bargaining agreements that were signed after the 2011 law took effect. Approximately 60 percent of those contracts contained prohibited language.

“This new law was meant to give school officials the ability to retain and reward high-performing teachers by removing these issues from collective bargaining,” according to Audrey Spalding, director of education policy for the Mackinac Center and author of the study. “But in many cases we found that districts did not wholly remove the prohibited language from their contracts or they agreed to immediately reinstate the language if the state laws were overturned.”

At issue is Public Act 103 of 2011, which prohibits districts from negotiating over teacher placement, evaluation, recall and other policies. PA 103 was part of a larger reform effort in 2011 that also included Public Acts 100, 101 and 102, which allowed districts to remove ineffective teachers more easily; forbid districts from using seniority to determine layoffs and recalls; and required districts to establish teacher evaluation practices that incorporate student growth.

“This is the first analysis of the implementation of these important reforms since they became law more than two years ago,” Spalding said.

Spalding found that 77 districts, or 60 percent of the 130 reviewed, had contracts that contained language that could be interpreted as being in violation of Public Act 103. At least 11 districts had contracts that stated the prohibited language would immediately take effect if the reforms were overturned or reversed, particularly as they related to the failed Prop 2 of 2012.

“If they agreed in the contract to reinstate the provisions at some time in the future if the laws were overturned, that sounds like they were bargaining over it,” Spalding noted. “Language promising a certain action during the course of the contract implies that.”

Spalding added that several districts continued to include language prohibited by PA 103 but then either grayed out the language, struck through it or added an addendum or letter of understanding claiming that it was “information” or an “interpretation.”

“With such a confusing approach, school leaders may not fully be aware of the latitude they have to improve the quality of teaching in their schools,” Spalding said. “It would have been clearer, as labor attorneys told the Michigan Association of School Boards, to simply take out prohibited language completely.”

Spalding suggests that policymakers should consider whether these types of attempts to comply with the 2011 reforms are sufficient and, if not, should consider attaching some sort of financial penalty for districts that fail to comply.

“Such an approach would not be unprecedented,” Spalding noted. “Under Public Act 152 of 2011, districts are limited in the amount they can spend on employee health insurance. Those found to be in non-compliance saw a 10 percent cut in their state aid. Unsurprisingly, most districts appear to be in compliance.”

The full study can be found at