Heads Up, K-12 Leaders: Open Negotiations Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Open"

A good reminder when analyzing policies, including in the world of K-12 education, is to take some time to look beneath the surface. A policy may not be exactly what it seems. The inimitable Mike Antonucci recently offered up a telling example. Under the heading “How to Close ‘Open’ Bargaining Sessions”, he points readers to a column written by Las Vegas teacher Chip Mosher, recounting his adventure trying to attend so-called open negotiations.

The result? It turns out before he could enter a session in which a union bargaining team was supposed to be bargaining on his behalf, Mr. Mosher says he had to sign a form that’s somewhere between a nondisclosure agreement and a “loyalty oath.” This encounter came after two previous attempts to observe negotiations.

When Mosher asked if the union leader could sign his own form, something to the effect that he wasn’t being singled out, he was refused. The Las Vegas teacher tried to get more of an explanation, wanting to know from the union representative at the door if only teachers had to sign the union’s “loyalty oath” form:

“I’ll be right back with your answer, Mr. Mosher!” she barked. But she never did get back to me. Which, too often, is how the union treats its members.

His words, not mine. A few years ago, my Education Policy Center friends released a paper highlighting the need for more transparency, letting people in to observe (not participate in, mind you) a process that helps “forge policies that determine the use of taxpayer dollars.” It’s one thing to imagine why the parties would rather keep out the prying eyes of citizens who fund the system, but why would union officials — in Las Vegas or anywhere else — try to push teachers away?

The situation in Colorado has improved somewhat since that paper came out three years ago, but only a little. Adams 12 and Thompson are two sizable districts that have made some steps toward this kind of transparency in 2013. Most bargaining school districts still keep the discussions behind closed doors, even though some of them have contract language that actually says negotiations are supposed to be open.

What did I tell you about looking beneath the surface? Pro-transparency leaders in Adams 12, Thompson, or wherever else may want to open up closed doors would do well to remember the importance of details and getting it right.

And maybe one of these days Mr. Mosher will be able to get into a session without being hassled, because as Antonucci colorfully puts it:

Apparently what happens in a Vegas teacher contract negotiation, stays there.