News Story

'Super Seniority' For Union Officials, Other Clauses In School Contracts Prohibited By Law

New report shows up to 60 percent of school union contracts have not eliminated forbidden provisions

The president of the teachers union in the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District can't be laid off, according to the union contract, but a 2011 state law prohibits that kind of protection.

The "Super Seniority" clause in the contract states: "The Association president and the Union chief negotiator shall not be subject to layoff."

Inserting, or keeping that kind of clause in the union contract, is part of a larger problem happening across the state where school districts and unions have negotiated provisions that are prohibited from bargaining.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy surveyed 130 school district collective bargaining agreements that were signed after the 2011 law took effect and found that about 60 percent of the contracts contained language that was prohibited.

Public Act 103 of 2011 prohibits districts from negotiating over teacher placement, evaluations, recalls and other policies. The law's intent was part of a larger reform effort to remove ineffective teachers with more ease, stop districts from using seniority to determine teacher layoffs and recalls, and make districts establish teacher evaluations that incorporate student growth.

"It's sad so many districts work with their unions to keep prohibited language in their collective bargaining agreements," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center and author of the study. "The danger is this will mean business as usual."

Woodhaven-Brownstown School District Superintendent Mark Greathead did not respond to a request for comment.

Woodhaven-Brownstown is not alone. Nearly 20 school districts have seniority based decision making provisions in their contracts, which could be used to determine layoffs.

The Brighton Area Schools collective bargaining agreement states: "No written reference to test results will be used in teacher evaluation." The Brighton teachers union contract also states that teacher retention is based upon seniority.

Brighton Superintendent Greg Gray said the school district has been following state law, which he said supersedes any language in contracts. Gray said all of the language that no longer is allowed is highlighted in pink in a copy of the contract the district uses. He said the union wanted it kept in the contract even though the district no longer follows it.

Gray said the district does not base all layoffs on seniority. A Freedom of Information Act request returned from the district showed this to be the case as the three teachers laid off in 2013-14 had 21 years, 21 years and 12 years of experience.

Gray said the district uses data from common local assessments and MEAP results to assess Brighton teachers.

"We use test scores in the evaluation of teachers," he said.

The problem with the law, he said, came about when it said test scores must be a "significant" part of the evaluation but it was difficult to measure what "significant" meant.

Gray said the district will base 25 percent of teacher evaluations in 2014-15 on state-based tests and common assessments. However, according to the state, the percent of teacher evaluations based on student growth and achievement data will increase from 25 percent to 40 percent in 2014-15.

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.