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Who Runs Your School District: The Board or the Union?

Who Runs Your School District: The Board or the Union?

Students and parents attend a Newport Mesa Unified School District meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Moorlach

John Moorlach

8/9/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

Commentary
One of the responsibilities of an elected official is to represent the voters of the jurisdiction in regard to negotiations with the bargaining units within the municipality’s employ.
I enjoyed this process while serving as an Orange County Supervisor in Southern California for eight years. We had multiple employee bargaining units, and reading their contracts, known as memorandums of understanding (MOU), was a critical component of the process.
I was recently challenged to read the MOU of the collective bargaining agreement between the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers. This 161-page document was approved on June 29, 2021, became effective on July 1, 2021, and remains in force until June 30, 2024.
There are provisions in place that allow negotiations to be reopened prior to the expiration date, should modifications be recommended, that can be adopted by mutual agreement of the Board of Education and the Federation.
The benefit of having a digital document is that it can be searched. This lengthy document details provisions for the District’s employees, down to the minute, but pays minimal attention to the District’s management.
Here is one example: For teachers, the number of instructional minutes per year for students shall be at a minimum as follows:
  • Kindergarten: 54,000 minutes per school year
  • Grades 1-3: 54,000 minutes per school year
  • Grades 4-6: 56,700 minutes per school year
  • Grades 7-8: 59,400 minutes per school year
  • Grades 7-12: 64,800 minutes per school year
  • Grades 9-12: 64,800 minutes per school year
What is required of management? The Board of Education is only mentioned specifically 20 times, but for ministerial purposes. The Superintendent is mentioned 53 times, but mostly for the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. When it comes to searching the word “rights,” it only appears nine times and never refers to management. The word “manage” comes up 12 times, but only as manager or management.
I could not find any specific provision as to what management’s rights were.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District is one of two basic aid districts in Orange County. It receives its funding from property taxes, as opposed to a specified amount per student from the state based on an average daily attendance formula.
Newport Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Newport Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The good news is that these two districts receive more funding per student than the other 26 in the county. This is because Newport-Mesa and the other school district, Laguna Beach Unified, are in high real estate market assessed value areas (see How Unions Influence School Districts’ Financial Rankings, March 9, 2023). For Orange County, Newport-Mesa is in first place, with an average value of $951,881 per parcel. Laguna Beach is in seventh place with $738,826 per parcel.
When reviewing the balance sheets of both districts, dividing the unrestricted net deficit by the population the district serves, Newport-Mesa has a net deficit of $1,599 per resident, placing it 25th place out of Orange County’s 28 school districts. Laguna Beach has a net deficit of only $131 per resident and is in first place (see Every School District in OC Improved Its Fiscal Health in 2022—Except for 2, June 19, 2023).
Based on the juxtaposition of having the most resources, but one of the worst balance sheets, perhaps an imbalance in the Newport-Mesa MOU needs some modifications.
Maybe management needs a stronger position to steer the ship of state in a more appropriate direction. The district needs to have great teachers, but it also needs to have a stronger balance sheet to weather a potential downturn in the real estate market.
I would suggest the following language for a management rights clause (which I’ve stolen from another thief, as many management rights clauses are available with a simple search of the internet):
“Except as otherwise specified by the provisions of this Agreement, the Board of Education retains the exclusive right and power to manage the District, to direct its employees and to delegate, to the extent allowed by law, said right and power to management personnel, including the customary and usual rights, powers, and functions, and authority of management vested in the District by law. Such rights shall continue to vest in the District and be exercised thereby without prior negotiation with any bargaining representative.”
Students and parents attend a Newport Mesa Unified School District meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Students and parents attend a Newport Mesa Unified School District meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

If anyone is going to drive the district into the financial ditch, it should at least be the seven individuals who were elected by its voters to be at the steering wheel. Otherwise, they serve a superfluous function and are serving at the beck and call of the Federation.
When you have the best revenue structure but also the highest unfunded liabilities, something is seriously wrong. And the available data proves it. If we gave it a grade, a “D” would be charitable. Fortunately, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has more than enough competent attorneys residing within its boundaries that can volunteer and instruct our elected trustees in Negotiation 101. And the sooner the better, as the current grade needs to improve.
Here’s your summer homework assignment: Request a digital copy of your school district’s most recent collective bargaining agreement and determine who is running your schools: management or its union.
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John Moorlach

John Moorlach

Author

John Moorlach is the director of the California Policy Center's Center for Public Accountability. He has served as a California State Senator and Orange County Supervisor and Treasurer-Tax Collector. In 1994, he predicted the County's bankruptcy and participated in restoring and reforming the sixth most populated county in the nation.

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