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Michigan teachers unions have more on the bargaining table this year

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Teachers’ unions in Michigan will be able to bargain with school districts over specific contract terms for the first time in over a decade because of changes made last year by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

A report from the Mackinac Center and a blog post from the National Education Association highlight how school districts will respond to the repeal of provisions barring bargaining over personnel matters like recruitment, evaluations, placements and bonuses as part of the Obama-era Race to the Top program.

The Mackinac Center looked at the collective bargaining agreements of the largest 200 Michigan districts, which enroll almost three-quarters of the state’s public school students, according to the report.

“School districts have been prohibited from bargaining over many subjects for over a decade, but those subjects just got put back on the bargaining table,” Steve Delie, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, said in a press release Wednesday.

Specifically, those terms include classroom observations, teacher disciplinary procedures, performance evaluations, teacher layoff and recall procedures, teacher placement decisions and contracting out noninstructional services to private service providers, the report found.

“It is critical that school boards be prepared to negotiate terms that maximize student outcomes and success while ensuring proper accountability,” said Delie.

Meanwhile, teachers unions are thrilled to have more control over what they can negotiate with their publicly funded employers, according to a piece published Thursday in NEA Today, a publication of the nation’s largest union.

“[F]or those veterans who remember what it was like before, all of a sudden they’re like, ‘It’s back the way it used to be.’ Whereas the newer people are saying, ‘This is a whole new world,’” Kelly Pearson, a first-grade teacher and president of the Clawson Education Association, told NEA Today.

Pearson’s union in the metro Detroit area was one of the first in the state to start negotiations on topics that had been off the bargaining table for over a decade, according to the union’s publication.

“Honestly, what the state legislature did was amazing,” Pearson told NEA Today. “Take just one example: evaluation.”

The Democrat-backed changes deemphasized student academic achievement in evaluating teachers and revamped how school districts evaluate them.

The Mackinac report said the changes to teacher evaluations could mean lower-performing teachers can stay in the classroom. Under the new system, teachers can rebut their rating in a conference with administrators and a union representative and receive a performance improvement plan.

“A teacher’s performance directly impacts how effectively children in the classroom can learn,” the Mackinac report reads. “If administrators’ ability to measure teacher performance is hindered, districts cannot provide the accountability needed to rid themselves of underperforming teachers.”

The Clawson Education Association president told NEA Today that her union negotiated teacher placement provisions to prevent teachers from being moved too often and revised discipline standards to require “just cause” instead of the district’s prior standard of “not arbitrary or capricious.”

The Clawson union also received a 3% raise, bonuses for long-term employees and class size reductions. Pearson described it as a new era for the profession.

“With everything we’ve been able to get back, I feel like we’ll be able to recruit the next generation of young people,” Pearson told NEA Today. “We’re rounding the corner.”

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