School District Labor Contracts: Surprising Provisions

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More than 1.7 million students rely on Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts to meet their diverse educational needs.[1] School boards from each district agree to collective bargaining agreements (labor contracts) with local teachers’ unions. These labor contracts, renewed every few years through closed-door negotiations, contain various privileges for unions. This summary highlights key contract provisions that tilt the playing field toward government unions at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers alike.

Click here for a searchable database with labor contract provisions for each school district. 


Labor Contractsa

Percentage of Statewide  Contractsb

Expired Contracts



Maintenance of Membership



Union Resignation Window



Dues Deduction



Fair Share Fees



Union Release Time



Full-time Release



Temporary Release Only



aThese figures were compiled via Right-to-Know requests. The information is up-to-date as of August 1, 2016. In few cases, these figures may not reflect the most recent collective bargaining agreement of each school district.

bCalculated out of 499 districts currently enrolling students.

Each signed contract specifies an expiration date, typically the last day of the school year every few years. If the school board and local union have not agreed to a new contract or a formal extension by this date, teachers continue to work under the terms of the old contract. This means teachers, such as those in the over 100 districts currently without agreements, could wait years for salary or healthcare adjustments. A new contract begins retroactively to the day after the previous agreement’s expiration.

Maintenance of Membership, as mandated by the Public Employee Relations Act, requires teachers to remain union members until an allotted time within which to resign.[2] Sixty-two percent of agreements include maintenance of membership provisions. Of those, 201 specify only a 15-day resignation window prior to the expiration of each contract, meaning that many teachers are trapped in the union for years before they can resign. Further, collective bargaining agreements for 89 districts fail to indicate when a resignation window occurs. Only 9 districts allow members to resign on a yearly basis.

Nearly all districts (485) require deduction of dues from the paychecks of teachers, using public resources to transmit money to the union, a private organization. Only one district specifies that a majority of members must agree to the automatic deductions before instituting the practice.

Fair share fees are a condition of employment imposed in 396 districts. Under this arrangement, teachers choosing not to join a union must nevertheless pay a “fair share” fee to the union. These fees amount to roughly 80 percent of the full union dues. School districts—at taxpayer expense—automatically deduct these fees from teacher paychecks and transmit them to the union. School boards in 13 districts stipulate that fair share fees are imposed only when union membership is high (between 75-90 percent). Typically, however, the fee is imposed regardless of union membership.

A provision in 457 contracts, “release time” diverts public resources to private union operations by taking teachers from the classroom to conduct work for a union. This release comes in 2 forms:

  1. Temporary Release. A majority of districts grant temporary release for employees. The district sets aside days of leave for members to attend union conventions, serve as union delegates, or conduct union business. The district bears this cost, typically with a union reimbursing only for the cost of a substitute, if one is used. Additionally, union officials may receive exemption from teaching and non-teaching school periods without a reduction in pay.
  2. Full-time release. Over 100 districts also grant teachers leave to work full time as a union employee, typically a local president or PSEA or NEA officer. These teachers remain on the district payroll, retaining their position and often their salary step progression, pensions, health benefits, and seniority position. Union reimbursement specifications vary, whether covering all or a percentage of costs, paying for a substitute, or contributing nothing at all.

Every district pays teachers according to a salary scale calculated by educational level and teaching experience. Each additional year in the classroom leads to another step up the scale. The lowest possible salary of a teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree averages $43,124 at this first step, ranging from $22,000 to $60,962 across districts. The average maximum salary scale averages to $81,686, with a range between $59,396 and $122,078, bringing the overall scale average to $62,405. Contracts also include bonuses and monetary benefits for years served, additional duties, and tuition reimbursement.

Every contract includes district-sponsored health care plans for major medical, prescription coverage, dental insurance, and typically life insurance, with a lump-sum payment for those wishing to enroll in a non-district-sponsored plan. Contracts include various plan options with a range of deductibles and copays. Ninety-nine districts do not require employee premium contributions. Of those requiring premium contribution, the average minimum an employee must contribute for single coverage is calculated 1 of 3 ways: 

  • Set annual contribution to premium cost: $649
  • Percentage of premium cost: 9.54%
  • Percentage of salary: 1.95%

Click here for a searchable database with labor contract provisions for each school district. 

[1] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Public School Enrollments 2014-2015,”

[2] Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, “Public Employe Relations Act,”