Taxpayers Deserve a Debate

A dispute in the Scranton School District over the cost of a teachers’ contract is another example of why the collective bargaining process must become more transparent.

According to the Times-Tribune, Scranton School Board directors are at odds over the district’s ability to pay for a new contract granting raises to teachers:

As union members overwhelmingly approved the contract agreements for teachers and paraprofessionals on Tuesday, some school directors questioned if the district can afford the deal. Other directors made assurances that the cost of the contract will not result in a tax increase.

The new contract was hammered out Monday night, ratified by teachers yesterday, and is expected to be approved by the Scranton School Board tomorrow. For a district facing financial difficulties, rushing to pass a controversial contract in three days isn’t prudent or fair to working people picking up the tab.

Currently, there is no law requiring a transparent debate over the merits of collective bargaining contracts. That needs to change. Senator Pat Stefano’s legislation, Senate Bill 645, requires all collective bargaining agreements to be posted two weeks prior to ratification. In the case of the Scranton contract, 14 days would provide all parties involved more time to discuss and debate the terms of the deal.

Senator Stefano’s legislation could also be of help to reformers fighting for transparency in other parts of the state. Jamie Cox, the former president of Keystone Community Hope—a partner organization of the Commonwealth Foundation—is battling her school district for the right to know how much the district’s most recent contract will cost taxpayers.

After obtaining documentation disputing official cost estimates, Cox asked the district for information regarding its expenditures, but after multiple appeals, her request was denied. In addition to requiring the posting of contacts, Senate Bill 645 provides cost estimates to taxpayers, which would have saved Cox the trouble of requesting what should be public information.

The absence of collective bargaining transparency appears to be a systemic problem in the commonwealth, which isn’t surprising when governing in secret is the norm.