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Articles: Unions

A staff member and students in the Upper Moreland Township School District in Pennsylvania take a walk as part of the intermediate school wellness initiative. The program keeps all staff motivated to be fit and healthy.

Districts are getting creative in how they address the need to rein in costs and still provide employees with good benefits. They can’t resolve some issues, such as the definition of a full-time employee (the Affordable Care Act uses 30 hours). But unconventional thinking is yielding ideas that other districts can learn from.

Combating a $1.1 billion deficit, Chicago Public Schools’ new budget proposal phases out district pension contributions for central office, regional and non-union support staff. The district says the change will save about $11 million annually once fully implemented in 2018.

A state-mandated $676 million pension contribution accounts for a large chunk of the deficit, district officials say. Unlike most other districts in Illinois, Chicago and its local taxpayers are required to pay 7 percent of the 9 percent pension contribution for all employees.

S. Dallas Dance has raised test scores at Baltimore County Schools since becoming superintendent in 2012.

President Barack Obama in August appointed Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance to the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Dance has been superintendent in Baltimore County since 2012. He helped raise the graduation rate by 2.5 percent—to over 86 percent—between 2012 and 2013.

Above, the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township discusses union issues. Left to right, Chad Hunter, Uniserv director; Kate Miller, union president; Dena Cushenberry, superintendent; Brian Simkins, human resources director; and Tony Mendez, school board president.
The Central York School District administrators recently discussed union issues. From left to right, Shelly Eaton, teacher union president; Bobbi Billman, director of human resources; Kevin Youcheff, principal of North Hills Elementary School; and Robert Grove, assistant superintendent.

It was compromise that prevented a major teacher’s strike in February, as Portland Public Schools and the local union struck a bargain during an intense 24 hours of negotiating that ended months of deliberations.

is Van Roekel speaks at a recent conference, sponsored by the Education Writers Association and held at the University of Chicago, about teacher evaluations. Next to him, from his left are:

Changing state laws and the rise of evaluations have given administrators more flexibility in removing tenured teachers, a task that had long been nearly impossible. More states are tying student achievement to teacher evaluations and renegotiating contracts.

The National Education Association (NEA) has taken the position that teachers should be held accountable for providing high-quality classroom instruction. To avoid drawn-out legal battles, districts also should have a cost-effective, efficient system in place if someone has to be dismissed, the group states.

Texas’ teacher merit pay system, once the largest in the nation with early successful results, was eliminated in a summer legislative session due to massive cuts to the state’s education budget. The small amount of funding that remains has been converted into a competitive grant for improving instruction in low-income districts.

In 2010, Attila J. Weninger was 61 and ready to retire. But he received a phone call. A recruitment firm hired by the Stevens Point (Wis.) Area Public School District called on Weninger to help the troubled district, which faced budget problems, vacancies in top cabinet positions, and two previously failed referendums.

Though the Chicago Teachers Union approved a new contract in September, the aftermath of their eight-day strike has led to debate over the role of teacher unions in education reform; specifically, whether unions should be allowed expansive collective bargaining and striking rights under state law, or if these rights impede reform.

This is an updated version of the interview posted on the District Administration website at the time of the strike.

Longtime school superintendent Randall Collins, executive director of the District Administration Leadership Institute (, shares professional insights on the Chicago teacher strike with Odvard Egil Dyrli, District Administration’s executive editor.

Over the past two years in the Medway (Mass.) Public Schools, teacher evaluation entered a new era, spurred by state and Race to the Top requirements. For the past 15 years, the district used a traditional system of teacher evaluation, including classroom observations, followed by a summative review, notes Medway Superintendent Judy Evans. Administrator walkthroughs, which took less time than formal observations and provided a snapshot of teacher performance, took place only intermittently and did not include all classrooms.

Evaluating teachers—whether casually or more rigorously, annually or less frequently—has long been part of the job description of many a principal and assistant principal, who often have relied on occasional observations to make their judgments. What’s usually resulted are an overwhelming number of “satisfactory” ratings and the infrequent “unsatisfactory” designations.

Longtime school superintendent Randall Collins, Executive Director of the District Administration Leadership Institute shares professional insights on the Chicago teacher strike with Odvard Egil Dyrli, District Administration’s executive editor.

In July, San Bernardino became the third city in California to file for bankruptcy. California isn’t alone, however. In Scranton, Pa., for example, the mayor made a bold move by paying the city’s workers minimum wage, prompting a universal “gulp” from public employees across the country.

Kaya Henderson’s childhood in one of New York’s most affluent areas, Westchester County, could not have been more different from that of the middle school students she taught at Lola Rodriguez No. 162 in the South Bronx.