Gloria Wright / The Post-StandardSchool districts don’t make teacher contracts public until after they are approved. That’s what happened recently when the Liverpool school district approved a three-year contract. Here, Liverpool school board member Donald Cook speaks at a meeting of the board. Teachers’ salaries continue to rise despite recession The cost of living has decreased. Median pay in Central New York has dropped. Yet, the 10 school districts in the area that settled contracts in the year or so since the recession hit have awarded annual raises to teachers and staff that — with one exception — range from 3.5 to 4 percent. The average annual pay raise is 3.69 percent. The story. The first tentative agreement between the Liverpool school district and its teachers’ union came to the school board on Nov. 16. No copies of the contract were made public before the meeting for residents to review. At the meeting, no copies were available. In an unusual move, the board rejected the contract. A week later, a new contract was brought to the board. Again, no copies of the contract were made public before or at the meeting. At the meeting, the public was told it couldn’t comment on the proposed contract. This time, the board approved the contract that sets teacher and staff pay for three years. Liverpool isn’t doing anything unusual — school districts typically keep pay raises and entire contracts secret before they are presented to the school board. Nearly all contracts are quietly approved with little or no public review or input. Negotiations between a district and union take place in secret as part of collective bargaining. That’s the same for other public sector labor contracts, too. But once there’s a tentative pact, the proposed contracts should be made public, but that almost never happens, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. “The public has no opportunity to express a point of view,” he said. Altmar-Parish-Williamstown recently reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with its teachers and the union, but it hasn’t been approved by the board yet. The district doesn’t release any details of the tentative pact unless it’s been approved by the board, said Superintendent Jerry Hudson. To do that “would be a breach of good faith negotiations,” he said. “It’s not easy to reach an agreement with both parties now, and if we got the public involved it would be that much more cumbersome.” Because taxpayers are footing the bill for these costs, they need to have input, said Lise Bang-Jensen, senior policy analyst for the Empire Center for Public Policy, a taxpayers’ watchdog group. “The public has the right to know what’s in that contract before it’s too late,” she said. “Often, school districts would prefer the public not have the chance to criticize the contracts.” If proposed pay raises were made public before contracts are voted on, “I suspect the raises would probably be smaller,” Bang-Jensen said. Shining the light on contracts might result in criticism and a backlash from taxpayers, which districts don’t want, she said. “The way they do it now it’s too late for the public to make any meaningful comments on the contracts before they’ve already been approved,” she said. Union and district officials disagree, saying until a proposed agreement is ratified by the employees and the district, it’s still technically open for negotiation. “If negotiations were public, what incentive would there be for either side to move even one inch for fear of being publicly criticized?” asked Richard Korn, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers. Korn said taxpayers have a voice through the school board members they elect to represent them in good faith during contract negotiations, and to open it up to the public could create “grandstanding and gridlock.” East Syracuse-Minoa School Board President Kevin Burke agrees. “We’re talking about a personnel agreement, and the negotiations aren’t for public discussion,” he said. “If they were, it would just create more waves. The board is elected to do what we feel is best for everybody.” Cornell University’s Lee Adler, who teaches public sector collective bargaining and labor law, agrees that bargaining must be private, but not after the two sides have reached a tentative agreement. “Citizens should have the right to ask questions or make comments as part of the ratification process,’ he said. There are efforts to open the process to the public. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, sponsored a bill in March that would require the proposed terms of a collective bargaining agreement be made public when it’s sent to union members for approval or rejection.