Critics of unions continue the urban myth that teacher union contracts prevent principals from creating effective schools because of restrictive seniority provisions. It is not so much the wording of the contract but the idea of what the contract represents, according to a small school principal,
“I don’t object to any clause in the contract, I object to the mythic impact of the contract. The staff agrees that something will be good for kids, but, the chapter leader asks, ‘does it violate the contract: the letter or the spirit of the contract?’ Most teachers agree with me, if it’s good for kids we should do it, some teachers, good and bad teachers, are only concerned with what happens inside the walls of their classroom, and the chapter leader and the union acolytes, with the advise of the regional union, are the defenders of the union grail … everything becomes a battle.”
Lengthy industrial style contracts are an outgrowth of unionism in America. On the other side of the pond, in Europe, local teacher contracts don’t exist, most decisions are made by the school leader and the staffs at each school site.
You can review over 100 contracts from fifty states here, and you will find a “sameness,” salaries, benefits, work days, work years, excessing/layoff rules, transfer and work assignment rules, dismissal and other discipline rules and dispute resolution procedures, etc.
Within the teacher union movement flexibility in negotiations is actively debated.
In Los Angeles and Boston the school district and the teacher union have carved out a cluster of schools that operate under a “thin” contract and easing of district rules. See the UTLA “thin contract” here and a discussion of the Boston Pilot School contract here here and here.
GothamSchools reports that the New York-based Green Dot Charter School is approaching the conclusion of their contract negotiations. In LA the Green Dot contract can be viewed here, 21 pages of the 53 page contract deals with the Teacher Evaluation System, ultimately dismissal can be appealed under the grievance procedure in the contract, culminating in binding arbitration.(“just cause” versus tenure)
So, will the upcoming set of contract negotiations result in some sort of “thin” contract, or LA Green Dot style contract in NYC? Absolutely not.
There is no reason to have hundreds of teachers sitting in euphemistically called Teacher Reassignment Center, aka, rubber rooms. The contract provides specific timelines to move forward to resolve teacher discipline issues, timelines that are totally ignored by the Department for political reasons. It is easier to attack the union and the union contract if there are hundreds of teachers twiddling their thumbs. Overcrowded rubber rooms serve a political purpose, damn the kids.
The ATR pool is another example, either gross incompetence, wasting of tens of millions of dollars, or, yet again, creating a disaster for political purposes.
If the legislature recycles mayoral control we face more years of union versus the Department (Randi v. Joel) jousts, battle after battle. If the legislature “tinkers,” keeps mayoral control but with checks and balances we may be able to move beyond the conflict stage.
True collaboration requires an environment of trust, an environment that is currently totally lacking.