A state lawmaker is proposing legislation that would help taxpayers know more about what they’re paying their teachers.
State Representative Fred Keller (R - Snyder) is introducing a bill that would require a two-week period of “openness” before school boards could approve any proposed collective bargaining agreements with teachers.
The board would be required to post the proposed contract details to its publicly accessible website, as well as in a local newspaper of general circulation at least two weeks before the agreement is put to a vote.
Why the two weeks? Keller says that residents should know in advance where their tax dollars are going.
“Currently the bargaining process is not open. In other words the details of the contract aren’t known to the taxpayers until the contract is approved, and I’m simply saying before the contract is approved - since it will ultimately impact the taxpayer’s property tax bills - they should be able to see it and have notice of it before it’s approved.”
According to Keller, rising property taxes, the main revenue stream for schools, are a problem across the state. One of the key factors is the rise in school district salaries. According to Keller, Pittsburgh area teacher’s salaries have increased 31 million dollars above the rate of inflation over the last ten years.
According to a Consumer Price Index from the Department of Labor, the 2000-2001 school year’s district salaries were actually 887,000 dollars less than inflation.
Keller hopes an increase in transparency will allow for further accountability from school boards to make sure that the interests of all parties are taken into consideration.
This past August, 43 Western Pennsylvanian school districts approached the beginning of the school year with ongoing contract negotiations. Disagreements in negotiations can result in teacher’s strikes keeping kids out of school for undetermined periods of time.
“If we’re putting the kids first, currently there’s teachers that work without contracts now, so in other words somebody in the committee today said they had four years,” Keller says, “So, if they’ve gone four years without a contract - once they come up with an agreement - what’s another two weeks if you’ve already been working four years without a contract.”
Keller has received some criticism for the two-week time period requirement and said that he is willing to amend it down to a 48-hour notification period.