In Minnesota, failing to reach a contract agreement with teachers on time can cost a school district—and not just in terms of labor-management reputation.
Under what appears to be a law unique to that state, districts have until Jan. 15 to reach agreements with their local teachers’ unions in each even-numbered year. If a district fails to do so, the state deducts $25 per student from its aid.
The state held back $345,000 from the 11 districts that did not make the deadline in 2006.
This year, 16 districts failed to settle with their unions before the deadline, according to Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, which is an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The 10,000-student St. Cloud school system, the largest of the districts that have failed to reach an agreement, would, for instance, pay a penalty of $257,000.
The deadline is meant to keep contract negotiations from stretching indefinitely. Officials from the union say they haven’t heard of any other state with a similar requirement. Tom Dooher, the president of Education Minnesota, said the union believes the deadline has been beneficial.
“We support the deadline because we know it works. It encourages both the school district and the local to get their work done,” Mr. Dooher said.
He said that 95 percent of contracts are settled when the deadline is in place. On the few occasions when the legislature has suspended the deadline, only a little over a third of the contracts were settled, he added. Minnesota has a total of 339 school districts.
Contract agreements vary by district, but on average teachers in the state got a 2.36 percent salary raise for 2008-09.
Those representing school leaders say, however, that the contract deadline creates unfair pressure on districts, which feel pushed to make deals for fear of being hit with the penalty.
“[It] can make school boards take action and accept proposals that they wouldn’t accept” in the absence of a deadline, said Bob Lowe, the associate deputy director of membership services for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2008 edition of Education Week