Pennsylvania School Board Transparency
Guide to school district contract negotiations
The guide to school district contract negotiations for school board members, the media, and the public includes an overview of the public school system, a background on school district spending, some focal points on school district transparency, and an overview of teacher contracts and negotiations.
Public school system overview
Pennsylvania public schools (pre-kindergarten - grade 12) operate within districts governed by locally elected, nine-member school boards. The formal title of a school board member is "school director." Pennsylvania has 501 school districts.
School district spending
Pennsylvania school spending is tracked by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). The Department of Education is required to submit financial reports annually for school expenditures, revenues and 511 tax forms.
Pennsylvania spends approximately $22 billion annually on public education from all sources. About 35% of this money is appropriated by the General Assembly and allocated to local districts by formula. These formulas are partly set by programmatic factors (e.g., funds for "basic education" and "special education" are allocated separately) and by measures of a district's potential tax base.
District transparency focal points
Effective public oversight of public school spending requires an understanding of transparency focal points -- key decisions made by local school boards. All Pennsylvania school boards make three kinds of decisions (the first three on the list below) that have long-term implications both for both the cost and the quality of their educational programs. They may be significantly involved in a fourth decision (fourth on the list).
These transparency focal points are as follows:
- Annual budget approval
- Major construction programs
- Union contracts - negotiations and approval
- Charter schools/cyberschool programs - authorization and oversight
Teacher contracts and negotiations
School boards are required to renegotiate contracts with teachers in their districts usually every three years, though must by law do it every five years in the state of Pennsylvania.
"School Board Transparency Blog"
This blog's focus is on transparency in contract negotiations, mainly in Pennsylvania, although it will address other issues related to education and public schools. Transparency is not just a tactic, and it’s more than compliance with "open records" laws; most of us understand it as an ethical imperative for public officials. The blog is designed to promote informal dialogue among school directors and, over time, become a reference archive of "best transparency practices" (e.g., links to web pages that communicate complex issues to the public effectively).
"Transparency Honor Roll"
In the spirit of "finding the good and praising it" (how Alex Haley, author of Roots, once described his goal as a writer), the honor roll lists Pennsylvania school districts whose web pages offer ample servings of budget-related information.
- Labor sunlight, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 8, 2008
- Pennsylvania Department of Education, Education Names and Addresses (dead link)
- Pennsylvania Department of Education, Finance Department