Education Sector's latest report, Frozen Assets is a provocative exercise by scholar Marguerite Roza, which attempts to calculate the amount of money schools choose to spend on some things which could theoretically be spent on other things. Roza aims her lens at eight provisions commonly found in collective bargaining agreements. She asserts that these provisions have a "weak or inconsistent relationship with student learning" and provides some evidence, albeit limited, to back up her point.
Roza's bottom line is that districts are spending 19 percent of current funds to pay for salary differentials awarded for seniority and master's degrees; health, retirement and sick leave benefits that are well above private sector standards; days devoted to professional development, class size reductions; and requirements that teachers be assigned aides in certain circumstances. Consuming about half of these dollars is pay for experience. It's hard to imagine, though, how all, part or even some of this particular pot of money could be effectively reallocated to other sorts of compensation schemes--as all industries, both public and private, pay employees more for experience.
Roza's recommendations have unionists up in arms (for example, in New York and Chicago) mostly because they aren't all that appreciative of the intellectual exercise on offer here. Roza does what all districts and unions ought to be doing, calculating the cost of items that are too often treated like freebies, not necessarily in order to toss them out, but to better appreciate that none of these benefits come without some tradeoffs.
Visceral union reaction reveals the report's one strategic error: choosing to cast these spending decisions as primarily the product of collective bargaining when the real culprit is districts' reluctance to modernize and focus on funding only what works. The agreements are in large part the vehicle for formalizing what everyone would be doing anyway. It doesn't take a union to persuade school districts to keep spending money badly.