Secret Contract Leaves Taxpayers in the Dark

In a special Friday night voting session, board members in Monessen School District unanimously approved a new teachers’ contract, which runs through 2018. The terms of the contract, including the cost, is a secret. Still, local property taxpayers are now contractually obligated to foot the bill. Sound unfair? And Monessen is only the latest example of a secretive collective bargaining process that leaves taxpayers in the dark.

Whenever decisions over public money are made, government and elected officials need to be open and transparent. Taxpayers have the right to know how their money is spent. This is common sense. And it’s why a growing number of states are bringing more transparency to public sector labor negotiations. Here in Pennsylvania, the Senate has already passed contract transparency legislation. 

SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano (Westmoreland), requires a summary of public sector collective bargaining agreements be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing. This allows taxpayers to see cost projections and raise objections if the proposed contract does not represent the best interest of taxpayers and workers. 

The Pennsylvania House now has an opportunity to take up SB 645.

Without reform, taxpayers will continue to be stuck paying for secretive backroom deals as exemplified in Monessen School District. Notifying the public after a labor contract is already signed is too little, too late, as there is no turning back. Instead of treating taxpayers as an afterthought, lawmakers should make labor contracts transparent and give Pennsylvanians a seat at the table.