Teachers’ Unions Support Local Collective Bargaining…Except When it Comes to Their Pensions

Teachers naturally want to have a voice in how their schools are run. Through local collective bargaining agreements, teachers have a say in district salary schedules, the number and type of sick and personal leave, the length and timing of the school day and year, the number of students per classroom, the amount and type of support services offered to students, and the professional development provided for teachers. Teacher contracts can even include things like copy room protocols or the acceptable temperature of school buildings.

Teacher contracts include basically everything, that is, except pensions. School districts and teachers’ unions don’t negotiate on what the retirement benefit should look like or what level of benefit it should offer to various groups of teachers. Nor do they negotiate over how much the district should spend on retirement contributions. Some districts do negotiate over who pays the contribution–the district or individual teachers–but under statewide pension systems, decisions about benefit structures and contribution levels are all made by state legislators, state comptrollers or treasurers, or even unelected pension boards. Teachers have no more say over their pensions than the typical voter does.

The result of this odd dynamic is that districts are forced into spending large and growing shares of their budgets to pay for a benefit that teachers themselves don’t fully value. Perhaps unbeknownst to individual teachers, this is happening across the country. While some teachers or districts may prefer lower expenditures on retirement benefits in exchange for higher base salaries, neither teachers nor local school districts are given that choice. School districts, including most charter schools, have no choice but to pay the rates set by the state legislature, even if they’d prefer to spend precious resources on higher teacher salaries, hiring more teachers, or making other critical investments in school services.

In other words, teachers might prefer a different arrangement than current state pension plans. But they don’t really have a voice in those decisions.

– Chad Aldeman

This first appeared on TeacherPensions.org

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