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Opening The Door For Reform: Rethinking and Renegotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements

Opening The Door For Reform: Rethinking and Renegotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements

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Published by BuffaloReformED1
Jason Zwara and Buffalo ReformED present a new approach to Collective Bargaining that takes into account the needs of students, and allows for more flexibility and autonomy in school governance.
Jason Zwara and Buffalo ReformED present a new approach to Collective Bargaining that takes into account the needs of students, and allows for more flexibility and autonomy in school governance.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: BuffaloReformED1 on Oct 19, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Jason A. ZwaraBuffalo ReformEDAugust 2011
Oenin the Door or Reor
Collective bargaining agreements (CBA) between teachers’ unions and school districtsare amongst the most important factors in how schools actually function, yet are also the leastunderstood. Teachers’ contracts operate to control school schedules, work assignments,employment decisions, salaries, performance evaluations, professional development and manyother aspects of the daily operations of the district’s schools. These contracts and their impacton the operations of schools, however, are rarely known to, much less understood by, thepublic. Further, the restrictions created by a CBA impede reform attempts, from curriculumimprovements to longer instructional periods. Rethinking CBAs must be of the highestimportance for any sort of education reform movement.The expansive coverage of a CBA greatly impacts the day-to-day decision makingability of teachers and administrators alike. Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated byrepresentatives of the union and the school board and control every school in the district. Thus,all schools within the district must operate under the exact same terms, inhibiting flexibleapproaches based on the unique nature of each school. For the Buffalo Public Schools, theseissues are magnified for two reasons.First, the Buffalo Public School District does not operate under a current contract: thelast negotiated contract, agreed to in 1999, expired in 2004. Under New York’s Taylor Law,the law that governs the collective bargaining process for all public employees, the terms of anexpired contract remain in operation until a new contract is negotiated. Because of this rule,BPS has been operating under a contract that was negotiated 12+ years ago that was intendedto expire seven years ago; the contract is beyond out of date.Second, a traditional CBA is especially troublesome for school districts, such as BPS,that plan to implement ‘turn-around models’ at low-performing schools. Bound by a district-wide contract that treats the best and worst performing schools identically and that limits theflexibility and autonomy of individual schools to make meaningful decisions or changes, a low-performing school, where the district must implement an intervention, is bound to continue tounder-perform, regardless of the good intentions and efforts of the staff at that school.The purpose of this report is not to blame any of the parties involved in the bargainingprocess, nor is it intended to instruct the parties on the best ways to conduct negotiations.Rather, this report hopes to open up a meaningful dialogue among the interested parties as tothe purpose and impact of CBAs on school and student performance, while also offering somerecommendations for changes to spur a conversation.
The report proceeds by providing a brief introduction to collective bargaining, thenbreaks down the ten major areas collective bargaining usually addresses, explaining each area,why it is important, how it currently is addressed in the BPS contract or under New York Statelaw, and offering some alternatives to the current approach. On one hand, the Buffalo PublicSchools are desperately in need of updating the contract between the Board and the BuffaloTeachers Federation. Yet on the other hand, the best approach may be to take this opportunityas a ‘fresh start’ to negotiations. Putting considerable thought into how the terms of acollective bargaining agreement impact the education system will be the first step towardsopening the door to more meaningful on-the-ground reform.
Oenin the Door or Reor
The legal structure of collective bargaining is an intricate set of rules and regulationsthat establish who must engage in collective bargaining, when collective bargaining mustoccur, what matters must be negotiated over, and how agreements are enforced once they arereached. In New York, the employment relationship between teachers and local school districtsis governed by a collective bargaining agreement. In New York, the
Taylor Law
gives allpublic employees, including teachers and other school personnel, the right to organize andbargain collectively. Once a group of public employees organize and select a representative, apublic employer must collectively negotiate with that representative. For public schooldistricts, the school board, represented by the Superintendent, must negotiate a CBA with thelocal teachers’ union. Certain elements of the teacher-district relationship are explicitlyestablished by
New York Education Law
and are withheld from local collective bargaining.The stipulations withheld from local collective bargaining agreements include the rules fortenure, the ‘last in, first out’ layoff rules, and the recently established framework for teacherevaluations.By law, the school board and the teachers’ union must negotiate in good faith overcertain ‘mandatory’ subjects of employment; they may also negotiate over certain otherpermissive subjects. ‘Mandatory’ subjects broadly include the “wages, hours and other termsand conditions of employment”: more specifically, workload, disciplinary procedures, benefitsand leave provisions have been considered mandatory bargaining subjects. Additionally, andimportantly, the Taylor Law requires that any ‘permissive’ item (that would not ordinarily beconsidered a ‘mandatory’ subject of bargaining) becomes ‘mandatory’ for all future negotiationsbetween the parties once the term is included in a contract. Therefore, once a school districtand a union reach agreement over a provision in a contract, they must renegotiate thatprovision again whenever negotiations are opened back up for a new contract.Public employers and unions are also required to negotiate whenever decisions of theschool board have an impact on the terms and conditions of public employment (although theyneed not negotiate the managerial decisions themselves). Under the Taylor Law this is called“impact negotiations.” Impact negotiations must occur when the union makes a demand tonegotiate over the impact of a decision by the school board.The
Triborough Amendment
, a provision of the Taylor Law, states that when acontract expires without a new contract being negotiated, the terms of the expired contractcontrol until a new agreement is reached. It is this provision that permits the BPS to continueto operate under a contract that expired over seven years ago. This amendment was enacted todiscourage public employees from going on strike; however, as a result, the provisionessentially makes it unlikely that a union would ever negotiate a new contract with lessfavorable terms, instead continuing to operate under the terms of the expired contract.The Taylor Law, therefore, makes public employer/employee negotiations complexproceedings that grow even more complicated as more items are added to the bargaining table.The result is that each new contract naturally ‘builds on’ previous contracts, and the easiestapproach is to add new terms, rather than to renegotiate the existing terms. With this in mind,the overall recommendation and goal of this report is to promote a ‘fresh start’ philosophy, andto encourage debate and discussion over the existing terms of the contract.

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Joe Schmidbauer added this note
Your analysis is fraud from a practical understanding of politicized nature of the Buffalo Public School administration and the completing agendas that has damaged the quality of education in Buffalo. The structure of the Collective Bargain agreement is of little importance. if the one of the parties continuously acts in bad faith. The abuse of the grievance process is a case in point.

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