Shining a light on teacher union contracts

by Ken Girardin |  | NY Torch

detective-flashlightThroughout New York State, no public document has a greater impact on tax burdens and educational performance than the local teacher union contract.

Yet few school districts have made any effort to share these contracts with taxpayers — and so the Empire Center has stepped into the breach by doing it for them.

Since 2008, we have been systematically requesting copies of teacher union contracts from each of the state’s nearly 700 school districts, and posting the documents on our SeeThroughNY.net transparency website. We have also collected and posted individual employment contracts between school districts and their (generally well compensated) superintendents.  These documents make up the largest online repository of New York school district labor agreements available anywhere.

Salary schedules and benefits naturally get most attention when teacher contracts are negotiated. However, these collective bargaining agreements—ranging, in print form, from slender to voluminous—also detail work rules, disciplinary procedures and other aspects of the relationship between the teachers’ union and the district.

For example, a random look at some of the teacher contracts on the Empire Center website reveals that:

  • The Indian River School District teachers union contract offers certain employees up to 15 annual “vacation days” – in addition to normal school vacations.
  • The Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers districts, among others, are required to collect money for union political action committees.
  • The Rochester City School District is required to provide “daily courier service” between the teachers union’s office and the schools.
  • The Brentwood Union Free School District does not allow middle and high school teachers to voluntarily teach an extra class for extra pay if there’s enough work to justify hiring another full-time union member, even at greater expense.
  • Buffalo teachers, whose health plan includes cosmetic surgery, are not required to make any contribution to their health care premium.
  • The Yonkers school district must limit the amount of bulletin board space for any teachers’ organization other than the teachers’ union.

The contracts database can be accessed here.

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- Ken Girardin is the Policy Analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy.