February 9, 2007

Watching the House: Statewide Teacher's Contract

Marc Comtois

The Governor mentioned it in his State of the State and Rep. Paul Crowley (D) seemed to support looking into it and now a group of GOP legislators have introduced a bill that calls for a statewide teacher's contract. H 5397 (sponsored by Representatives Loughlin, Gorham, Mumford, Moffitt, and Singleton) states:

(a) Effective July 1, 2008, there shall be a uniform statewide teacher contract for purposes of the employment of newly hired teachers in any public school within this state. Said contract shall be prepared by the board of regents of elementary and secondary education, who shall conduct hearings throughout the state on the form and content of such contract prior to issuing a final form of such contract. The provisions of this contract shall include, but not be limited to:

(i) The remuneration of such teacher for their professional services, including the rate of pay, the use, amount, and step, if any, used, as well as any incentives and/or other basis for merit-based pay;
(ii) A requirement that said teachers who elect to participate in the teacher's retirement shall participate in a defined distribution plan as set forth in section 16-16-44 and shall not participate in a defined benefit plan system as provided for in Chapter 36-10.

(b) Effective on July 1, 2008, all teachers newly hired by a public school district or system shall be hired using the uniform statewide teacher contract established pursuant to the provisions of this section...

(c) No teacher employed by a school district prior to July 1, 2008 shall be subject to the uniform statewide teacher contract so long as that teacher remains continuously employed by the same school district...

(d) The uniform statewide teacher contract shall be distributed to the various hiring authorities among the school districts in the state and shall be used thereby. Provided, that the decision whether to hire or terminate any new teacher shall remain with the local school district, and the use of the uniform statewide teacher contract shall not render the teacher an employee of the state. Any teacher hired using said contract shall remain an employee of the hiring authority.

(e) Any school committee or regional school committee may, in its sole discretion, offer additional compensation or remuneration or other benefits in addition to what is provided for in the uniform statewide teacher contract, as an inducement to employment or continued employment of any certified teacher. Provided, such additional benefits, remuneration, or compensation shall not be subject to or a result of collective bargaining.

There's more, but I didn't want too many eyes to gloss over!

Once quick observation I had is about part (e). It gives communities the ability to pay more for teacher's if they so desire. In effect, this will open up a competitive market for teachers. On one hand, this seems to be a good thing insofar as it encourages competition for quality teachers, which, by extension, fosters the concept of merit pay. On the other hand, poorer communities will probably be unable to offer attractive incentives to lure teachers to their more challenging schools. Is suppose that the state could subsidize the teacher salaries of these poorer districts so that they could compete. Of course, then that could lead to salary escalation and the taxpayers would end up paying more. Maybe the free market wouldn't work? Not so fast.

I think the trick is to turn this around a bit and remember that the students are the ones who are supposed to be the consumers and thus the beneficiaries of an educational free market. Thus, teacher merit pay and bonuses is only a halfway measure. To be truly complete, a true educational free market would also give students freedom of opportunity via school choice and vouchers.

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I like the concept, it’s at least an attempt to upset the status quo, and I’m sure it’s well intentioned. However, though this has the potential to improve things it could also make the situation even worse for the cities and towns. It will all depend on the specifics of the contract, i.e. what exactly would we have to pay for salary and benefits and how much freedom does the contract allow for districts to be innovative. My concern is that the contract will be set forth by the education establishment, isn’t this is a bit like the fox watching the henhouse?

It seems that we would actually have less say than ever before in our local property tax bill. Now the contract will be decided by people who are not elected and are even less accountable to the public. It would have been better to include people from different sectors to the group that creates the contract, with the education/union folks making up maybe a third of the group at most.

Posted by: frank at February 9, 2007 9:44 AM

What is the motivation for a state wide teachers' contract?

Going with the "way too cynical" motif, is this just so the GA can get the campaign contributions that the town school comittees are getting now?

I think it a bad thing that one body (the GA) decides what the terms are and another (the town/SC) has to pay it. It also moves the decisions further away from the taxpayers.

Is there anything good about this? For the taxpayers, I mean.


Posted by: Brian at February 9, 2007 9:45 AM

Definitely a two-edged sword.

Local school committees lack the professionalism to counter the professional negotiators from NEA. Worse yet, the NEA has managed to insert many of its own members into school committees (our esteemed ethics commission has ruled that it is not a conflict of interest for a teacher who teaches in one town to sit on the school committee in their hometown – this though NEA “pattern bargains” and points to what other school districts are paying to sequentially increase compensation throughout the state).

If neutral, intelligent and determined people were in charge of the state-side effort, it could work. But we certainly won’t get that from the RIDOE.

Similarly, if the GA chooses who will be “negotiating” or “establishing” the statewide teachers contract, well, we know that Bob Walsh and Marcia Reback will be involved. It’ll probably be like the state “Labor Board” that has union people sitting on it so, like school committees, NEA / AFT will end up sitting on both sides of the table.

As previous posters have observed, it’ll be the insatiable fox guarding the henhouse, the mother of all unfunded mandates from the states to the localities.

If there are statutory benchmarks to determine total compensation, i.e., national averages, that might rein-in some of the worst possible excesses. Though public school teachers across the country are already overpaid. See this new report from the Manhattan Institute: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_50.htm

The beauty of this bill is that over time it should lessen the clout of the teachers unions – why would teachers want to pay dues if they’re pay is established by the state anyway? Ideally they’d be banished from RI entirely (the GA could do so, if it wished) – but that is too much to hope for given the Democrat fealty to the unions.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 9, 2007 11:34 AM

Bite your tongue, Ragin, the teachers will ALWAYS need a union.

"We're the only ones you can trust. Suppose Republicans start making inroads in the GA? Don't worry your pretty head; we'll always look out for you."

Posted by: SusanD at February 9, 2007 2:53 PM

(I agree with all of the reservations expressed here. We don't need control of such a large chunk of taxes to be moved one whole level of government away.)

Posted by: SusanD at February 9, 2007 3:00 PM

This move may actually strengthen the NEA yet dissolve the local affiliates.

In IL, district teachers are trying to leave the state union (thus reducing their costs) http://www.southernillinoisan.com/articles/2007/02/06/local/19136965.txt

and one school threatened the same in Boston but it didn't stick. http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2006/12/15/sandbagging_a_pilot_school/

IMHO, the key to breaking the NEA is to educate its members on what their dues support (ie. advocacy for - abortion on demand, assisted suicides, gay marriage, gun control, and more issues unrelated to education).

Some teachers have spoken up (http://www.teachers-vs-union.org/) but we need more.

Posted by: WJF at February 9, 2007 7:52 PM

this is a great concept that could evolve with the 2 teacher groups pitted against each other.

the system is clearly going broke and the old teachers will get all there money and the new ones are going to pay for it with lower wages and benefits,

its amazing how stupid the young teachers are. they vote for the union reps that are bankrupting the system and dont realize that they, the young teachers, will pay for it

Posted by: johnpaycheck at February 11, 2007 8:59 AM

>>the old teachers will get all there money and the new ones are going to pay for it with lower wages and benefits ...

This is typical in union environments.

Seniority means everything.

The union bosses primarily are concerned with taking care of the voting union block the will always be around.

Because they are the first to be laid off, younger workers' are considered expendable.

The same dynamic is why union contracts etc. will often preserve pay and benefits for more senior employees, and push the costs / lower benefits down to the less senior employees.

Note even RI's tepid "pension reform" preserved the outrageous benefits for those hired before 1995, and reduced them (somewhat) for those hired after.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 11, 2007 11:09 AM
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