Colorado School Board Says Farewell to Teacher Union Monopolists, Implements a ‘Market-Based Pay System’ For Educators

For years, National Right to Work Committee members and supporters have lobbied their elected officials to revoke or, at a minimum, roll back government union bosses’ legal privilege to act as teachers’ and other public servants’ monopoly-bargaining agents on matters concerning pay, benefits, and work rules.

These patient efforts have borne fruit in a number of states over the past few years.  In early 2011, for example, Wisconsin citizens mobilized by the Committee played an important part in helping the labor-policy and budget reform package known as Act 10 overcome Big Labor opposition and pass into law.  Today Act 10 protects the vast majority of Badger State public employees from forced union dues.  It has also sharply curtailed most government union bosses’ monopoly power to dictate wages, benefits, and work rules.

Also in 2011, Tennessee citizens mobilized by the Committee led the charge for passage of the Professional Educators and Collaborative Conferencing Act, which repealed union monopoly bargaining in public education.

The immense need for grass-roots opposition to public-sector union monopoly bargaining is now being illustrated in the Denver, Colo., region, where the Big Labor-favored, counterproductive “single salary schedule” has actually been reversed.

The vast majority of the tens of millions of American kids who attend K-12 public schools have teachers who are subject to a so-called “single salary schedule” system.  And the specific variety of “single salary schedule” that is by far the most common in school districts across the country today was pioneered in New York City more than 50 years ago ago by future American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union chieftains Dave Selden and Al Shanker.

In the 21st Century, union bosses continue routinely to press for contract rules that base teachers’ pay entirely on how many years they’ve been on the job and how many years of higher education they have under their belts, regardless of what subject they studied or how well they learned it.

In the private sector, it’s an accepted part of supply and demand in the free market system that people with some college majors typically make more than people with other college majors.  On average, engineering majors earn higher salaries than history majors.  And chemistry majors earn higher salaries than English majors.

But with very rare exceptions, unionized public school districts are contractually prohibited from making market-based distinctions among teachers.  Consequently, there are chronic teacher shortages in fields like high school math and science and special education, and chronic teacher surpluses in fields like elementary education, English, and social studies.

Schoolchildren, parents, taxpayers, and many teachers are served poorly by the Selden-Shanker “single salary schedule.”  But many education “experts” insist there’s no point in trying to change it, because it’s inevitable.

Fortunately, as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute points out in a new commentary for National Review (see the link below), such so-called “experts” are now being proven wrong in Colorado’s third-largest school district.

Colorado is a forced-unionism state.  But unlike many states that lack Right to Work protections, Colorado law never compels school boards to recognize the bosses of any union as teachers’ monopoly-bargaining agents.

School boards in Colorado’s largest districts have until recently succumbed to political pressure and imposed a union monopoly on their employees without being legally forced to.  But last year Douglas County, which has 65,000 students and is located in the Denver suburbs, broke with this tradition of Big Labor appeasement.

Hess cites a number of reforms Douglas County school board members have been able to implement since they stopped being hamstrung by union monopolists.  The abolition of the Selden-Shanker “single salary schedule” may well be the most important:

Unwilling to settle for just adding merit raises atop the old industrial pay scale, Douglas County has adopted a market-based pay system. After hiring a former human-resources manager from GE to lead its effort to rethink teacher pay, Douglas County has established five broad pay bands based on the supply and demand for various teaching roles. This allows the districts to pay more for hard-to-find teachers, such as a special-education audiologist, and less for teachers in easier-to-fill roles. For the first time in memory, superintendent [Liz] Celania-Fagen reports, the district had more quality applicants for special education than they had positions available. Douglas County has shown, with little media fanfare, that it is possible to pay teachers what the market requires instead of being tied to a rigid, union-imposed, one-size-fits-all pay scale.

Not surprisingly, teacher union bosses in Colorado and nationwide are determined to nip in the bud this intrusion of common sense and sound management practices on the public education system.  National teacher union bosses can be expected to divert resources lavishly from their forced-dues treasuries into an effort to replace four Douglas County school board members who are up for reelection this November with Big Labor stooges.

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