Interest-Based Bargaining Helps Boards and Teachers

By Susan Black

The school board and teachers union of Connecticut’s Madison Public Schools unanimously ratified a new contract that will be in effect until June 2011.

The settlement reflects give-and-take from both sides at the bargaining table. For example, the contract stipulates more planning time for elementary teachers, a hike in teacher contributions toward health insurance, and teacher salary increases.

In contrast to past contracts, the new contract was settled in two months, without rancor, and without state mediation or arbitration. John Dean, chair of the board’s personnel committee, and Michael Keifer, chair of the union’s teachers’ negotiating committee, attribute the “win-win” settlement to a newly adopted strategy -- interest-based bargaining.

Dean says the board and union teams approached the table willing to listen and work collaboratively. Keifer says the teams took time to study and understand one another’s proposals. The difference with interest-based bargaining, Keifer notes, was “night and day.”

You may think that all school boards use interest-based bargaining, because they’re acting in the best interest of the district. However, many collective bargaining systems are actually adversarial. The board and the district come up with their version of a contract in isolation, without consulting the other side. Negotiators on both sides make decisions that can be based on emotion, not fact. 

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