Green Dot teachers can choose guaranteed retirement benefits or higher salaries and a self-managed 401(k) plan. According to a Nov. 11 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, teachers have overwhelmingly chosen 401(k) plans. Green Dot's contract does not offer tenure or seniority preferences, yet a fourth-year Green Dot teacher makes $8,000 more a year than a member of the traditional Los Angeles teachers union.
The Green Dot contract allows teachers to be fired for "just cause," and employees can challenge termination through a grievance procedure. Green Dot pushes decision-making down to the school level with very few administrators involved. Despite the use of a "thin contract" at Green Dot, many L.A. Unified teachers are willing to work with fewer job guarantees in exchange for a more professional day and higher pay. This year, Green Dot had 1,300 applicants for 90 teaching positions.
Pilot schools within larger school districts have also negotiated modified union contracts that offer teachers and principals more flexibility. For example, both Boston pilot schools and the new Belmont zone of choice in Los Angeles operate on a three-page contract that is basically a memorandum of understanding negotiated between the district and the union. The contract language from the Boston teachers union, for example, explicitly exempts the pilot schools from union work rules, allowing each individual pilot school to set hours of operation, schedules and decide on employee roles and obligations that best meet the needs of individual schools. If these exemptions work for small numbers of schools within a district, why not expand the modified contract to cover all schools within a district?
New York offers the most significant example of how a larger union can move toward simpler and more rational contracts in exchange for higher pay and more job opportunities. While New York's contract is far from the Green Dot or pilot-school model, it demonstrates a larger union willing to move toward more local control over personnel and practices.
New York revitalized the way it hired teachers by adopting an "open market" system. New York ended "bumping" and "force placing," practices that forced principals to hire teachers even if they weren't qualified or a good fit for the school. Now, through a new "open market hiring system," more than 3,000 experienced teachers applied for open jobs and were selected directly by principals for vacancies across the district.
The New York Department of Education (DOE) also worked with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to actually change the contract to include more flexible work rules in exchange for higher pay. The contract allows DOE to recruit and retain the high-quality teachers that New York students need and increases teacher pay by 15%. In exchange, the contract also gives DOE the ability to create "Lead Teacher" positions with a $10,000 salary differential, giving principals a powerful new tool to recruit experienced, talented teachers to high-need schools.
The DOE and UFT also created a $15,000 housing incentive for experienced math, science and special-education teachers who agree to teach for at least three years in high-needs schools. The agreement provides struggling students an additional 150 minutes every week in small-group instruction so they get the help they need to catch up during the school year.
Teachers and students at L.A. Unified would benefit from more flexibility in work rules that may not always be in the best interest of the teacher or the student. Principals would benefit from more control over personnel and day-to-day decision-making. Everyone would benefit from a simpler contract that treats teachers more like professionals.
Lisa Snell is director of education and child welfare at the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.