Monday, April 4, 2011

Schools and State Law: the Forrest Gump factor

Do you remember that scene in the movie Forrest Gump where he says “Mama says, life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get?”

Sometimes other things are like that box of chocolates.  For instance, take Maine state law.  We happened to be looking for specifics relevant to Nancy’s comment on the prior post, in which she stated:

Please remember that negotiations are - by law - confidential. Therefore, until the contract has been ratified by both the employer and the employees (union members eligible to vote), the details are typically not made public or discussed publicly. You may disagree with this way of doing business, but it is perfectly legal.

As we did so, we happened to come across this particular statutory language:

Title 20: EDUCATION

Part 2: PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Chapter 111: RELIGION AND MORALS

§1221. Teaching of virtue and morality

Instructors of youth in public or private institutions shall use their best endeavors to impress on the minds of the children and youth committed to their care and instruction the principles of morality and justice and a sacred regard for truth; love of country, humanity and a universal benevolence; the great principles of humanity as illustrated by kindness to birds and animals and regard for all factors which contribute to the well-being of man; industry and frugality; chastity, moderation and temperance; and all other virtues which ornament human society; and to lead those under their care, as their ages and capacities admit, into a particular understanding of the tendency of such virtues to preserve and perfect a republican constitution, secure the blessings of liberty and to promote their future happiness. [1983, c. 767, §1 (AMD).]

(The emphasis added is ours)

Once again, and we jest not, you could have knocked us over with an ostrich feather.  Shocked does not begin to describe our reaction, given the public discourse on government schools in recent decades.  We find it hard to imagine that School Department authorities are even aware of this language, let alone complying with it. 

Truth be told, we have come to believe they could very well be trying their best to do the exact opposite of what the statute requires, whether individually or collectively.  Uncharitable view, you might say, but we’re trying our best to live up to the low expectations the Board Chair has of us.

We would appreciate hearing from those who currently have children in our schools, or have had them there in recent years, as to your experiences vis-a-vis the above educational mandate.

Since we haven’t had children in school for more than 20 years, and that was elsewhere, we’ll have to do our own follow-up by other means.  And you can count on us to report on what we find.

As to the comment from Nancy on contract negotiations, we discovered that she was not entirely accurate.  Negotiations are not, by law, confidential.  The best reference to the issue we can find is located here in sub-paragraph 6D, which reads as follows:

Discussion of labor contracts and proposals and meetings between a public agency and its negotiators. The parties must be named before the body or agency may go into executive session. Negotiations between the representatives of a public employer and public employees may be open to the public if both parties agree to conduct negotiations in open sessions; [1999, c. 144, §1 (RPR).]

While it may be a subtle distinction, negotiations are not, repeat not required to be confidential.  Either party may choose to keep them confidential.  And since it only takes either the School Department/Board or the teachers’ union to so decide, there is virtually no chance for transparency.

You can try to decide whether one or the other wants to make the negotiations open to the public, but can’t get the other to agree. 

I believe that’s what you call ‘a fools errand.’

 

5 comments:

  1. The purpose of the freedom of access law is to keep as much as absolutely possible in the public eye. That's why the law is written to provide exceptions rather than define what must be public. In other words, everything is public unless there's an exception.

    Labor negotiations are an exception. And, as I pointed out yesterday, if both parties agree to bargain in public, they may do so. You are correct that if either side says "no", the other can not override the decision.

    The expectation of public sector collective bargaining is that the two parties are equal; the reality, of course, is quite different, so the ability of either (or both) side to keep negotiations moving forward by keeping it out of the public domain is important. By focusing simply on the FOAA statutes and not considering the labor laws contained in Title 26, you are missing a good portion of the story.

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  2. OK, Nancy. Then why don't you post the relevant language, rather than dumping it on my desk to find the passage you refer to?

    If you found it, you could cite it.

    Kabish?

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  3. The law, like a Constitution, is not worth the paper it is wrtiten on if those in power selectively choose to ignore it and those who are supposed to inforce it are in agreement with those who flaunt it.

    This becomes patently obvious when all of your attempts to call attention to this fact are stonewalled.

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  4. The law, like a Constitution, is not worth the paper it is wrtiten on if those in power selectively choose to ignore it and those who are supposed to enforce it are in agreement with those who flaunt it.

    This becomes patently obvious when all of your attempts to call attention to this fact are stonewalled.

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  5. Nancy writes:

    The expectation of public sector collective bargaining is that the two parties are equal; the reality, of course, is quite different

    Of course you are correct. The taxpayers footing the bill are at a distinct disadvantage as they never get to see what is being negotiated until it is a done deal. I'm sure if the negotiations were done in public that we'd all be surprised at how little thought is given to those who are required, through force of arms, to pay the cost of the "negotiations".

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