Another Merger Hurdle: Teacher Unions

Here’s another possible roadblock to school district consolidation as proposed by the Governor (taking 500 districts down to 100), legislators (some versions go down to 70 districts) or just the concept in general (a mandatory merger plan or one that guides voluntary combinations): how do teacher unions react? Much of the motivation by the strongest proponents is that the "back office" functions of principals, secretaries, nurses, librarians, etc. could see efficiencies through economies of scale.

But what if five districts are put together into a new district and the teaching staff has to be assembled: what rules the day? Is it seniority or classroom achievement? Smart money says it will be the former. That’s what happened when the districts of Monaca and Center joined together and jobs were cut. According to a newspaper article last April "Center cut four elementary positions…due to seniority, however, three of those teachers are bumping less senior teachers at the secondary level."

And what about pay levels? Would the lowest salaried district pull the consolidated districts down to that level or would salaries rise to meet the higher pay levels? If experience from other mergers, specifically City-County mergers like Louisville-Jefferson County, is any guide, the personnel costs will get more expensive.

It is safe to say that, in contrast to the massive number of school consolidations that took place in PA and the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, the power and presence of teacher unions has significantly changed the balance of power.