Just when I start to think I can keep up with what’s going on in the world of education, something sneaks up on me almost in my own backyard. I’m talking about a vote by the school board in Colorado Springs District 11 — the state’s eighth-largest school district (nearly 30,000 students) — to do teachers union collective bargaining in the light of day. One of my Education Policy Center friends was quoted in the story:
Benjamin DeGrow, education labor policy analyst with the Golden-based Independence Institute, wrote a policy paper on the subject two years ago that concluded that negotiations should be public.
“We are talking about taxpayer money and the future of children, it shouldn’t be done behind closed doors,” he said in an interview.
During a time when many state governments are looking at cutting back on public employee bargaining privileges, it doesn’t seem like too much for Colorado local school boards to shine some light on their negotiations. Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Sunshine Act, we at least can see the completed master agreements of the 42 or so districts that have them. Have you seen the taxpayer-subsidized policies in those agreements?
As mentioned in the Colorado Springs Gazette article, Ben DeGrow wrote a brief issue backgrounder on the topic of open negotiations last year. A few tidbits from that paper:
- Only one Colorado school district “has an established policy that thoroughly ensures the public’s right to observe bargaining negotiations” (with Colorado Springs 11, that would make it two)
- Two consecutive pieces of state legislation (in 2004 and 2005) that would have guaranteed open negotiations were both defeated
- Only six states are known to guarantee public access to public employee bargaining negotiations (Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Tennessee and Texas)
Sure, most citizens don’t have the time or wherewithal to attend these negotiations. But that would be where journalists (the professional ones and the amateur blogger types, too) come in. Hats off to District 11 board members for recognizing that when it comes to public dollars and policies that affect students, the bargaining table needs the vigilant eye of a third party: taxpaying citizens.