By Victor Skinner
CARBONDALE, Pa. – The Carbondale Area School District has nine members on its school board, but six have a direct conflict of interest with the teachers union that prevents them from participating in labor contract negotiations.
Some have spouses that are union members, some have daughters that are also members, and one is a member of the teachers union in another school district.
That shows what can happen when local unions are too successful in getting friends and relatives elected to local school boards.
Only two Carbondale board members qualify to serve on the negotiation committee tasked with crafting a new contract with the teachers union, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune. One of them is a nonvoting member.
The only other board member without a potential conflict of interest has too many other obligations to participate in negotiations, which leaves only one board member to represent taxpayers at the collective bargaining table, the newspaper reports.
“It probably has stretched out the process to this point,” Carbondale Area Education Association President Linda Gabriel told the newspaper. “We think we’re on the right track now, though.”
It’s not surprising that the president of the teachers union believes negotiations are “on the right track.” Union negotiators will probably have a field day working against a single school board member. That means the union will probably get everything it wants.
The situation illustrates the incestuous relationship that often exists between district and union officials in school districts across the country.
Union officials are known to recruit and help elect sympathetic school board members in an effort to gain leverage on both sides of the bargaining table. They’ve been fairly successful because many school elections are held in off years with low voter turnout – which allows unions to leverage their members’ votes for maximum influence.
We’re unsure how or when Carbondale’s school board members were elected, but it seems obvious the teachers union holds considerable sway in their lives. Those members are obviously doing the right thing by announcing their conflicts and stepping back from negotiations, but we have to wonder if it really matters.
Whether most of the board members participate directly in negotiations or not, they still hold final approval for any negotiated contract, and that’s what really matter most.
“They are going to bring it back to the (whole) board anyway,” Joe Caviston, one of the three board members without a conflict, told the Times-Tribune. “If we don’t agree with it, it’s not going anywhere.”
That’s certainly true, but we’re guessing that union officials are not worried. They know two-thirds of the board members have a vested interest in making sure any new contract is favorable for the CAEA, and will probably vote for a union-friendly pact.
Mission accomplished for the union. Unfortunately the high cost of the new contract will be left for the citizens of the district to pay.