EdChoice’s “Back to the Staffing Surge” podcast measures US public school employment growth versus student growth as well as teacher salary fluctuations and student outcomes over the past 65 years using publicly available data that state departments of education annually report to the U.S. Department of Education.
Three bills coming before the House this week aim to give the public more information about their government by eliminating some exemptions in the right-to-know law.
The supporters of these bills say they are furthering the purpose and intent of the right-to-know law, which is to ensure “the greatest possible public access” to the actions of government.
The New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA), which lobbies the Legislature on behalf of cities and towns, doesn’t agree.
The organization deemed each of the three bills “horrendous,” in a bulletin it sent to its members.
Donna Green, president of the School District Governance Association of NH, said she’s seen multiple instances of school boards writing unconstitutional ethics policies, including provisions that members cannot speak negatively against board actions – even if they voted against them – or not allowing board members to speak to the press.
Green should know – the Timberlane Regional School Board tried to implement similar policies when she was on the board, she said. Those policies were later rolled back after the ACLU got involved, Green said. Her history with the board has long been contentious; Green’s case that school budget and salary information be made public made its way to the Supreme Court, where she won. Green has since resigned from the board.
And Green said it can have a long-lasting effect on board’s ability to hear from their constituents.
“It’s chilling,” she said, “not just to board members who want to speak up, but to their constituents. The people they represent are being hampered by this.”
Edelblut and his message were right on target. Given that the School District Governance Association of New Hampshire is an association of current and past school district elected officials dedicated to mutual support and information sharing with the mission of empowering elected school district officials around the state to effectively assert their lawful authority and be responsive to their electorate his message resonated with the attendees.
By Donna Green
Published by the Union Leader on Mar 15, 2017
Salaries and benefits are the biggest expenses in public education. They are also the biggest drivers for the continually increasing costs of running our schools with fewer and fewer students.
In my school district, salaries and assorted benefits will cost us $52 million next year. That’s 73% of our 17/18 budget. Despite this enormous expenditure by the public, there is no transparency whatsoever in how these salaries and generous benefits are arrived at with our teacher and support staff unions.
Our negotiations begin with the school board assigning a few board members to the negotiating team. They confer amongst themselves and confer with the board as a whole. The teachers’ union also assembles a few teachers. Presumably they confer amongst themselves and so on. So far, so good.
Both parties hire their own lawyer. In the presence of the negotiating teams of their respective sides, the lawyers conduct the negotiations – entirely behind closed doors. Everyone involved is instructed to hold the entire process in complete confidence.
With the assurance of never being contradicted, both parties will claim to their broader constituents that they drove a hard bargain. Did they? Who is to know? We, the taxpayer, are left with increasingly unsustainable bills for benefits we ourselves do not enjoy in our private sector jobs. It leaves you wondering just how hard your elected representatives actually did work in your interests. Similarly, union members are left mystified as to why and how their initial positions got changed (if they did).
There is no reason we should be wondering. There is no reason at all that these negotiations should be done in secret. Every taxpayer and every union member alike should have a full understanding of just how hard their representatives and their hired guns have actually worked to drive a fair deal for all parties.
This is hardly a far-fetched idea. A 2015 policy paper published by the Commonwealth Foundation, “Opening the Curtain on Government Unions,” listed eight states that required collective bargaining negotiations to be conducted in public session:
- Colorado (school districts only)
One rural county in Washington state last year, Lincoln County, insisted on opening its negotiations to the public. They were sued by their public union for bargaining in bad faith but the court upheld the county’s right to demand transparency.
In the Commonwealth Foundation paper, Senior Fellow Priya Abraham argued:
Whenever major public policy or public money decisions are concerned, allowing public and press access to proceedings is crucial to transparent government. Moreover, transparency in government union collective bargaining is becoming increasingly necessary as public sector compensation outstrips that in the private sector, with the result being heavier tax burdens for working people.
New Hampshire’s Right to Know law (RSA 91-A) exempts collective bargaining negotiations from its open meeting requirements. This should be changed by legislators, but until then it is important to understand the difference between a permissible exemption and an absolute requirement. New Hampshire’s law says public bodies may conduction their collective bargaining in private, but it does not require them to do so. School districts and other public bodies should do the right thing by taxpayers and union members in insisting on negotiations in public when both parties are present.
To be clear, this is not an attack on unions. The only parties threatened by sunshine are those who aren’t standing up for the interests of their constituents.
Donna Green is president of the School District Governance Association of New Hampshire. The SDGA’s mission is to educate and empower elected school district officials to assert their lawful authority and be responsive to their electorate. SDGANH.org
The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and New England First Amendment Coalition will present a discussion next month on New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law.
We hope to bring back local control to education and in doing so improve both budgeting and education.
“SDGA’s mission is to move the balance of power back to elected representatives for the ultimate benefit of our children’s education.”
SDGA NH attracted members by word of mouth while getting its bylaws established. But members are now ready to make their presence known, and issued their inaugural press release Dec. 12.
Rich spoke to Donna Green, member of the Timberlane Regional School District, about the recently created School District Governance Association. Donna explained why she started the organization and they took a call from Harriet in Deerfield, who talked about her involvement.