No contracts in Clovis, Snowline, or Warner Springs –
While the growth and power of the teacher unions is undeniable, there are a significant number of districts in California that do not have collective bargaining agreements with a union, whether CTA or CFT. Teachers in these districts have opted to maintain their independence and have created a working relationship with the administration, one that promotes community and not the adversarial relationship that is an outgrowth of union negotiations. School boards in these districts operate under board regulations and policies, as did all school boards in the state before the Rodda Act.
Some districts are staffed with teachers, who, as a group, have never authorized an association to represent them. There are teachers in other districts who have decided that they no longer need to be represented by a teacher union and have voted to decertify, to opt out of a union. And while most of these districts are small, with enrollments of fewer than 1,000, two larger districts, Clovis in Fresno and Snowline in San Bernardino County , merit attention.
The Clovis Unified School District is a large suburban district in Fresno County . A teacher union has never represented Clovis teachers. Terry Bradley, the district's deputy superintendent of administrative services, explains:
When the Rodda Act was first approved, rather than grant an exclusive bargaining arrangement to one of the unions, our governing board and superintendent decided that it would be in the best interest of the district to have an election and actively support a "no representation" vote on the part of our faculty.
In 1977, the teachers did vote for no union representation. Instead, the district formed a faculty senate, an institution found in most colleges and universities. The president of the faculty senate is released from duties in order to be actively engaged in meeting teachers' needs. Faculty senate representatives meet with the district to discuss issues typically addressed in collective bargaining agreements. Dr. Bradley describes the process as active and collaborative:
We have a committee of 35 to 40 employees that actually determines who our health insurance providers are going to be. It's a multi-million dollar contract that does not go to the governing board for approval.
The board has authorized this committee to do that. 2
Bradley concluded the interview by expressing his strong belief that "the key is having a school board and superintendent who the various employee groups trust."
The policy on teacher assignment adopted by the Clovis Board of Education reflects how well a district can operate when it is free from the type of restrictions analyzed in this study:
It shall be the policy of the Board to delegate to the Superintendent authority to assign certificated employees as may be necessary due to specific needs of the District. Any adjustments in assignments shall be made in the best interest of equal educational opportunity for all students.
Clovis is proving that public schools can deliver high student performance with minimal bureaucracy and a budget the same as, or even below, the statewide average. Students are performing above average across a broad range of measures and are setting records for attendance. With no interference from a union, teachers use the methods and curricula they believe will meet the objectives they have set for students. As a result of this autonomy and flexibility, on average, more than 70 percent of Clovis students perform at or above grade level. 3
Awards aside, the real lesson of Clovis is that good education depends not on bloated budgets but creative and committed teachers and administrators held accountable by engaged communities. Clovis 's success also suggests that quality in public education will not be the norm until resources are channeled to classrooms rather than bureaucrats, and parents wrest control over education from teacher unions." 4
Further south in San Bernardino County , teachers in the Snowline District also are not unionized, even though unions have made repeated efforts to gain a majority of votes. According to Kathy Sharkey, administrative assistant to the superintendent, cooperation among teachers, administrators, and school board members is the primary reason why teachers in Snowline have never elected to be represented by a teacher union. Ms. Sharkey noted that teachers sit on the superintendent's council and have established a good working relationship with the administration and school board.
The Warner Unified School District in Warner Springs, San Diego County, while small (fewer than 500 students), may represent a trend that will spread to larger districts now that teachers are required to pay union dues under California's new agency-fee law. Teachers in Warner Springs voted to decertify the CTA and are no longer represented by a teacher union.
Warner Superintendent Frank Murphy reports that he and members of the school board deliberately chose not to become involved with, or contribute to, the debate regarding the pros and cons of decertification. He believes that "a lack of voice created the issue." 5
Doris Burke, a fourth grade teacher, who led the efforts to decertify the CTA, agrees that a change in procedure used by the union galvanized the efforts of non-union members. She observed, "All teachers [whether union or non-union] used to make decisions by getting together in a room and all voting on what to do." During a two-year period when the union had no contract and negotiations were contentious, teacher union members decided no longer to allow non-members to participate. "We had a majority of teachers who wanted to act on their own behalf. They wanted their votes to count and they wanted it to be a democratic process," says Burke. The union would not reinstate a policy of allowing all teachers, union or nonunion, to vote. As a result, when an election was finally held, the union lost its right to represent Warner teachers.
The experiences of these three districts demonstrate that teachers, district administrators, and school board members can develop the level of trust that enables districts to operate successfully without a union contract. And teachers in these districts, even though not unionized, have not sacrificed salaries or benefits: beginning and maximum salaries are far above the state's average. Teachers also keep more of their wages because union dues or agency fees are not deducted from their checks.
Perhaps those who have gained the most in these districts are the students. All three districts described above operate on budgets that are at or below the statewide average and yet they achieve far better results. Clovis 's student test scores are exceptional; 70 percent of the district's students perform at or above grade level. Between 50 and 60 percent of Snowline's and Warner's students perform at or above grade level. Parents and taxpayers have prevailed as well. Without a collective bargaining agreement, the school board does not need consent from the union to make policy or manage the district; rather, the school board is accountable solely to the community.