News Story

Union Teacher Contract Has Illegal Racial Preferences Provision

Mt. Clemens superintendent says removing language would cost district in employee concessions

A Macomb County public school superintendent says the teachers union contract for her district has a provision that would cost the school all the concessions it negotiated if language believed to be against the law is removed.

Two years ago, before Deb Wahlstrom took over as superintendent of Mount Clemens Community Schools, she said she was aware of issues in the union contract.

Specifically, the union contract includes provisions that the board would not authorize any public school academies (charter public schools) and would implement an affirmative action program in the recruitment, hiring and retention of "multi-ethnic teachers."

The full language:

The Board and Local 1 mandate that both parties implement an Affirmative Action Program in the recruitment, hiring and retention of multi-ethnic teachers. Local 1 agrees to assist in the development of viable procedures with the use of MEA and NEA resources.

Hiring - It is mutually agreed that the Board vigorously will pursue a policy of recruiting and hiring minority educators for vacancies, which may occur within the bargaining unit. Local 1 agrees to assist in the development of viable recruitment procedures, including the use of MEA resources, upon request of the Board.

The charter public school provision appears to violate a 2011 state law, while the affirmative action section contradicts Michigan's constitution, which says public entities "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

Mount Clemens ratified an extension of the contract in September 2011 that extends it to Aug. 31, 2014.

Wahlstrom, who inherited the current contract and is in her second year as superintendent, said the district attorney advised the district of the clause in the contract (Tentative Agreement of September 2011) that states if the contract is modified, the district would have to pay back the concessions it received and go back to the previous contract.

Wahlstrom said she's been told the district "can't afford to do it." The district has a Deficit Elimination Plan, which made reverting back unaffordable, she said.

"It's a shame the district negotiated itself into this position," said Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Spalding authored a study released in March that found that about 60 percent of Michigan's school districts could have illegal provisions in their contracts.

The current Mount Clemens teachers union contract expires Aug. 31. Wahlstrom said she intends to have all the language not allowed by law to be removed during negotiations that begin within a few weeks.

"As you can tell by looking at our contract, there is a lot that will come out by law," she said. 

She said a new negotiator has been hired to do the upcoming contract.

"We did have a concern that so many things were left in the contract that shouldn’t have been in there," she said.

Mount Clemens School Board Member Earl Rickman said if the contract contained language about affirmative action policies, it's never been implemented.

"Our student population is about 79 percent black students, yet the teaching staff is less than 5 percent black teachers," Rickman said in an email. "So much for the language to develop and recruit non-white teachers."

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, has called for a formal investigation by state departments into school districts which "allow bigotry and intolerance to be enshrined" in their contracts. 

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.