Every year when municipal budgets are debated throughout Connecticut, a terrible irony takes place. A massive bite - more than half the total budget - is off-limits for discussion. It has already been decided by a handful of people months, maybe years before the budget presentation. That huge bite is the teachers' salary and benefit contract. And it is irrevocable
With few exceptions, the contract, usually written for three years, is negotiated behind closed doors, routinely approved by local boards of education, submitted to the city council or board of selectmen and, absent any public comment, quietly approved.
The irony is that, for the fraction of the budget not concerned with teacher salaries, town officials conduct public hearings replete with charts, graphs, comparisons, projections and speeches. But the lion's share remains insulated and unexplained year after year. Before the curtain falls on yet another three-year shutout in many Connecticut municipalities, towns and cities must change this model.
Labor negotiations between municipalities and certified teachers are governed by the Connecticut Teacher Negotiation Act. According to the CTNA, the local legislative body, upon receipt of the contract, may remain silent for 30 days and the contract is deemed to have been approved. It can, of course, approve or reject the contact within the proscribed 30 days. Should it reject the contract, a cascading torrent of time-sensitive strictures engulfs the municipality in various levels of arbitration.
The state statutes, however, do not prohibit a public presentation. In fact, the local legislative body (city council, board of selectmen, etc.) has full authority to decide how much or how little public input it will allow, from no discussion whatsoever to an all-day referendum.
In a perfect world, negotiations would be held in the open, with the public invited to observe. Let municipalities bring them out of the shadows, where they have languished for decades. It's time for towns and cities to show respect for taxpayers, who fund these contracts. Open the book and start a new chapter. It's the right thing to do.
This is a great point. Our local district mandated an 18% increase in teacher salaries over a three year period when the average raise in wages for the rest of us was 2.5%. These contracts should be open for public discussion as long as the public is paying. The school districts always pretend that there's nothing that can be done about the contract when budget time comes around. Only something can be done about the contract when it is being negotiated.