First of its kind proposal in Grand Rapids

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The teachers' union in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has proposed taking over the largest chunk of the school district's budget in order to break a two-year-old logjam in the negotiation of a new teacher contract.

"We were at a standstill over salary and benefits," explained Paul Helder, president of the Grand Rapids Education Association.

Under the union's plan, the school district would tell the union how much money it has for all instructional spending. It would also decide how many teachers to employ. But then the union would assume all of the responsibility for deciding how much teachers would be paid, their benefits, and potentially decisions about textbooks and classroom supplies.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the district has yet to say no. It is "intrigued," though admits to having some concerns regarding the legal ramifications of such power-sharing. Grand Rapids spokesman John Helmholdt explained that there are strings attached to virtually every dollar (e.g., Title I, foundation money) and the ability to cede control isn't anywhere near as simple or as legal as the union makes it out to be. Grand Rapids schools' enrollment has been steadily declining over the past decade, and the district has struggled to right its finances to avoid state takeover. Sounds like the district is thinking, "Here, you try it!"

We're curious how the union's distribution of these funds would differ from the district's current figures. The union president says it's too soon to know. Would salaries tip more towards seniority? Or would there be more money to go around for copier paper, glue and scissors?