More transparency is needed in government bargaining, especially as Washington implements historic school reforms.
More transparency is needed in public contract bargaining, especially as the state of Washington implements historic and costly reforms of its education system.
This is underscored by stalled teacher-contract negotiations in Seattle and some other districts statewide. Lacking information of what’s happening in secret negotiations, the public is left with rhetoric that adds to confusion about McCleary education reforms enacted this year.
Since 1971, the people of Washington have demanded that public agencies conduct business openly so they remain informed and in control of their government. That should apply to contract bargaining, which involves critical fiscal decisions. At a minimum, state and local governments should follow the approach of some municipalities in California that publicly disclose documents such as contract offers when they’re shared during negotiations.
Transparency benefits those involved in negotiations as well as the public. Disclosing terms ensures that all sides know what’s on the table and prevents either side from sharing skewed information.
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This is critical as McCleary reforms move from the Legislature to school districts, where they’re now being implemented. The public, which is paying more state taxes to fund this K-12 overhaul, must be able to see how and whether it’s working. Visibility is needed into whether reforms are being supported or undermined during bargaining.
Open bargaining works well in Pullman Public Schools, where a contract reached Aug. 15 gives teachers a 15 percent raise this year and 2 percent raise next year. The district is one of at least two that decided last year to open sessions, saying “both taxpayers and employees deserve to know how they are being represented during collective bargaining negotiations.”
“We just think it’s fair for all of the members to know what’s being offered on both sides,” said district finance manager Diane Hodge.
Complex policies like McCleary inevitably require adjustment. But the overall deal is done after four decades of haggling. The state is committed to fully fund basic education and end reliance on local levies, which caused disparities and inequity.
Now the public must hold school districts accountable to pursue reforms in good faith and be honest and realistic about what’s working and what’s not. That requires transparency, not secret negotiations.
This isn’t a question of whether teachers should get raises. They should, and they will. What’s critical to McCleary’s success is that districts provide raises that are sustainable under the new funding approach. If districts make unsustainable contracts as a tactic to upend McCleary, they’ll jeopardize public support for any supplemental levies and bond issues.
Open bargaining should also be done by the state and other local governments.
Seattle provides another example with its police officers’ guild, which just reached a tentative contract after 3 1/2 years. A sticking point was federally mandated police reforms. The judge overseeing reforms rightly said Seattle shouldn’t be forced to pay extra to receive constitutional, nondiscriminatory policing from officers. But how that transpired in negotiations has been kept largely secret through four mayors and two police chiefs.
Reforming government is not easy, but great strides are happening in Seattle and Washington. Transparent contract negotiations are needed so the public can stay informed and hold government accountable to continue this progress.