May 20, 2010
The Anchorage School District (ASD) will soon consider the tentative teachers (AEA) contract for approval. This contract will cost the taxpayer $166,968,000 for health care insurance alone over the three year period. And this is only for the 3,600 teachers. Salary benefits for new hires will increase another 4%, 2% and 3% for contract years one, two and three, respectively. With this much at stake, Anchorage citizens should be allowed to provide substantial input in an open forum before the School Board votes on this contract. Currently, the time allowed for public comment is limited to 30 minutes and is not adequate.
ASD should follow the intent of Municipal code. Municipal code Part I, Article XVII, section 17.05. Public Meetings, states, “…the public shall have reasonable opportunity to be heard.” However, before the public comment period the ASD should educate the public on the costs of this contract. ASD should analyze the total life cycle costs of the proposed contract, determine the costs to other collective bargaining contracts, and provide these costs with full explanations on the ASD website. In the interest of an open and transparent government, this information should be displayed in a searchable Excel-type format so interested citizens could more readily discover the cost factors and their full implications. Only then, should the School Board hold public hearings so citizens can have the opportunity to be heard.
The process for receiving input on tentative collective bargaining agreements is not defined very well in the School Board Policy. The usual thirty minutes of public input is much less than adequate―only ten people could be heard if each one took the maximum three minutes.
The Board needs to do three things: First, they should clarify the process. Any ambiguity about when and how to testify is unacceptable. Second, the Board needs to provide adequate time for public input. As with any process, there are many drafts and versions of the contract that are created. A waiting period before the final draft is voted on allows the public to look at it and engage with the board. Finally, the Board needs to ensure the District provides more transparency on its web site so the public can be adequately informed. The draft provided on the district website is not easy to find, and is not linked on the main page. On the website that the State Legislature maintains, the public is provided with all the previous versions and drafts of any bill as it moves through the process. The process to approve a three year contract should be at least as transparent.
The School Board has a fiduciary responsibility to explain the total costs to the public and ensure that these increased personnel costs can be funded without negatively impacting the educational process in the classroom. But, beyond that, the School Board is a body that is making decisions about how to spend tax money. Because of that, the process should be transparent. Transparency is more than just posting something on a website. It’s a culture and a way of doing business. Transparency can create an engaged constituency that genuinely wants to give useful input about how we can make this better for all parties involved. In the absence of transparency, public funds become merely a pie to divide between special interests.