Well-prepared school boards don’t head into collective-bargaining negotiations without first reviewing their educational programs and considering trends affecting their district. By taking the time to consider specific educational programming issues before beginning negotiations, you can build critical flexibility into your contracts. Don’t get caught between “a rock and a hard place.”
Develop a firm grasp of student enrollment trends. An unstable average daily membership by enrollment (ADM) affects revenue, expenditures and staffing. Unanticipated declines in student enrollment, especially in smaller districts, may force layoffs, reductions in school days, or both. It is important for districts to consider the many variables that affect student population. For example, keep tabs on how many high school students you have and how many elementary kids are heading into the system. Know what’s happening with the local economy: Are any major companies going out of business or coming to town? What are the demographics of those moving into your community? Are they mostly single? Young families? Retired couples?
Unions continue to bring class-size proposals to the table, generally addressing the topic in three ways: 1) asking for a student cap or target class size (using a weighted formula to account for the additional attention required by special needs students); 2) seeking additional instructional aid or grading support for teachers with higher student loads; and 3) seeking financial compensation (in the form of premium pay or a stipend) for teachers whose class size exceeds the established targets. Consider whether class size is truly an issue. Are your class sizes generally higher than the state average? How does the district compare with its geographic neighbors or districts of similar size? Have your teachers raised the issue during the term of the current contract? If class size seems to be a local issue, determine whether the union will work with the district to address it. For example, reducing class size typically requires the district to recruit and hire new teachers. Will the union accept modest – or no – salary increases or changes to health insurance plans to free up revenue for hiring new staff?
Subcontracting has been raised more often for services traditionally supplied by classified staff than licensed, but the popularity of “distance learning” using video-conferencing tools and the Internet means more districts and unions are addressing instructional-services contracting. As with classified services, boards must bargain over the decision and impact prior to contracting out instructional services for a distance learning program. You can address subcontracting issues for licensed or classified staff during the next round of collective bargaining, even if your district has no current intent subcontract. Some licensed contracts expressly waive the union’s right to demand to bargain over distance-learning decisions during the contract as long as distance-learning decisions do not result in any teachers being laid off. Classified contracts may waive the union’s right to bargain over any decision to subcontract. Still other contracts contain an outright bar on subcontracting during the agreement, but such prohibitions such should be avoided. Once they become part of the agreement, subcontracting bars will be difficult to remove, even if subcontracting becomes more attractive.
As many school districts learned during last year, sudden fluctuation in enrollment or revenue left few options but altering their school calendars, which meant cutting days from the end of the school year, switching to a four-day week, altering the staff’s workday or instructional time, or some combination of all three. While preparing to bargain, review your current contract to determine whether it provides enough flexibility should changes to the school calendar become necessary. Employee contracts may have language that bars shortening the school year or enables districts to do so. Know whether your current licensed contract states that the school year shall consist of x number of days or states that it shall not exceed x number of days. The former implies a guarantee, the latter implies the school year may be reduced with a commensurate reduction in teacher salary.