By Steve Gunn
HAILEY, Idaho – Idaho is one of the few states that guarantees public access to collective bargaining negotiations between school boards and employee labor unions.
That apparently means more than just allowing citizens to watch the negotiations. It means allowing them to inspect the product of those negotiations – tentative contracts – before they are ratified by school boards and unions.
The Blaine County school board learned that the hard way this week, after a local newspaper pressed the issue.
The school board and Blaine County Education Association (the teachers union) quickly negotiated a new labor contract earlier this week. During the negotiations, the two sides agreed not to release their tentative contract to the public until it was ratified by the board and union members.
The board also took the position that anyone who didn’t attend the negotiation sessions was not entitled to inspect the tentative contract.
That type of secrecy is still common in school districts across the nation, and we think it’s inexcusable. Teachers union collective bargaining agreements determine how school districts will spend millions of tax dollars every year. They also spell out many details regarding school schedules, daily operations and staffing procedures.
Taxpayers – the people who cover all of the costs – should have a right to inspect and comment on tentative contracts before they are finalized.
Luckily the folks at the Idaho Mountain Express agree, and realized the law is on their side. After school administrators initially declined to release the tentative contract to the newspaper, the Mountain Express reminded them that they were in violation of a state statute.
“State law that addresses teacher contract negotiations is documented in Idaho Code 33-1273A,” a story published by the newspaper said. “The statute states that not only must discussions be conducted in public but that ‘all documentation exchanged between the parties during negotiations, including all offers, counteroffers and meeting minutes, shall be subject to public writings disclosure laws.’”
After reviewing the law, the district quickly faxed copies of the proposed agreement to the newspaper.
Chalk up another victory for government transparency.