Mike McMahon AUSD
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Source:Education Partnership Exeuctive Summary


March, 2005


In the spring of 2004, The Education Partnership broadened the scope of its statewide program work by undertaking research into the way union contracts affect the quality of our education system. In our program work with principals, superintendents, school committee members – and teachers – across the Ocean State, we have heard over and over the lament, “well, the contracts say…” or “the contracts won’t let us do that because…” or “you’ll never get the union to agree to…”. We have heard repeatedly of the inflexibility of teacher contracts and that these contracts fail to focus on the success of our children. And it dawned on us:What do these contracts actually say that so terribly limits state and local attempts to improve public education?

Teacher Contracts: Restoring The Balance is the first report of its kind to study the impact that teacher collective bargaining agreements have on the delivery of public education in Rhode Island. The general public is rarely aware of the role that collective bargaining plays in education. Most taxpayers are typically unaware of what is negotiated by union representatives and school committees and probably assume that the education dollar is being spent to improve learning. Growing concern about school funding nationally and in Rhode Island may soon change that.

Although this report is a critique of the scope of teacher bargaining and teacher contracts in Rhode Island, – it is not a critique of teachers. Our teachers greatly deserve the public’s support. The Education Partnership values the unique contribution that teachers make and appreciates their heartfelt and sometimes heroic efforts to become and remain good teachers.

The Education Partnership is issuing this report in the hope of raising public awareness, to facilitate a constructive dialogue across the State of Rhode Island, and to change the focus and scope of collective bargaining in public education.We hope this report will lead to action that is fair and effective. That means we must not confuse the content of union contracts with the quality and dedication of teachers, and we must put the interest of our children first.

Teacher Contracts: Restoring the Balance is based on 10 months of research into collective bargaining in education nationally and a detailed analysis of collective bargaining agreements in 101 of Rhode Island’s 36 school districts. The Education Partnership’s analysis examines contract language relating to management rights, grievance procedures, sick leave, union leaves, professional development, and working conditions. It offers negotiable alternatives within each area and recommendations for legislative change. The report analyzes the four major elements of teacher contracts: teacher evaluation, salary, seniority, and health insurance – and makes specific recommendations for changes in legislation affecting each area.

The purpose of this report is not to portray unions as villains. The job of union negotiators is to defend and advance the economic interests of their members. School committees are charged with representing the interests of the district and the taxpayers. Unfortunately, these conflicting agendas, more often than not, have resulted in labor agreements about excessive adult entitlements and allocation of dollars, and have little to do with improving education.

This is The Education Partnership’s first report on how contracts affect our public schools.We plan to continue our research on contracts in Rhode Island, to look for model contracts in the Ocean State and also in other states, and to publish our findings in future reports.

Our analyses led us to three broad conclusions:

  1. Teacher union contracts restrict flexibility and school autonomy.
  2. Many of the clauses in the contracts drive up the cost of education without improving quality.
  3. Teacher unions have used the bargaining process to entrench the role of the union in the contracts, weakening management rights.

Rhode Island contracts that approach nearly 100 pages are filled with the micromanagement of teachers, limitations to instructional time, generous paid time-off, incredible health and retirement packages, teacher transfer and assignment rights, limits to evaluation of teachers and numerous other stipulations.Many of these contract mandates limit the ability of teachers to perform as professionals and serve their students, and the authority of administrators to get the most out of the public’s education dollars.

Our challenge now, and the challenge of this report, is to change our collective bargaining practices.We need to create a public forum where these issues can be examined and discussed candidly and solved in a spirit of good will and common interest. Vigorous and respectful public discussion of public issues serves the common good, including the education and welfare of children.

Policy Recommendations

The Education Partnership endorses:

  • “Thin” contracts that provide for major items such as salary, teacher work day/year, teacher evaluation, and benefits to be decided at the state level, leaving to local districts the negotiation of some operational stipends and working conditions.
  • School leaders having the autonomy to make decisions about how school funding is spent, who is hired and retained, how the curriculum is organized and taught, and collaborative time spent to achieve the greatest improvement in student performance.
  • Schools’ ability to make decisions based on the specific needs of their students.We believe that the unions should abandon factory model bargaining and negotiate contracts that respect the teachers enough to believe they will make responsible, educationally sound decisions.
  • Revising state laws to allow for progressive teacher bargaining that does not lose sight of the goals of the public education system. Specifically, the Teachers Arbitration Act (RIGL §28-9.3-1[b]) must be revised to redefine the scope of teacher negotiations.


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Last modified: April 1, 2005

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