District Trendline

October 2015: Length of contracts

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District Trendline, previously known as Teacher Trendline, provides actionable research to improve district personnel policies that will strengthen the teacher workforce. Want evidence-based guidance on policies and practices that will enhance your ability to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers delivered right to your inbox each month? Subscribe here.

The Trendline usually focuses on policy trends at the district level. This month, we're taking a step back to consider the characteristics of teacher contracts and school board policy documents that govern the relationship between teachers and districts. Specifically, we'll take a look at how long the typical contract term is, how many districts collectively bargain with their teachers and the status of teacher contracts in districts across the database.

Length of contract

The average term for teacher contracts across districts in the database is 2.82 years, up slightly from when we last examined this topic in 2013. The most common contract length is three years. New York currently has the longest contract length with an agreement covering nine years, followed by Boston which has a contract term of six years. 

Of course the actual time period that contracts are in effect can vary greatly from the initially-determined length. Teacher contracts generally remain in effect until an agreement is reached on a new contract. For example, Buffalo is counted in the graph above as having a contract term of five years, although in reality the contract has been in effect for 16 years (from 1999 to present). If 16 years seems like a long time, that's because it is; after  on and off negotiations, wage freezes and a court case , the district and the union have almost exhausted all options for mediation set out in New York's labor law.

In other cases, newly minted contracts include retroactive years, connecting provisions of the new contract to years between the new and expired contracts. New York's most recent contract was ratified in 2014 but retroactive to 2009, which explains the district's unusually long contract term and contributes to its outlier status in the graph above.

Status of teacher contracts and board policies

The majority of districts in the database operate under collective bargaining agreements: while one-third of districts (39 of 121) generally operate under school board policies, two-thirds of the districts in the database (82 of 121) collectively bargain with teachers. [1]

Of those districts with collective bargaining agreements, the majority (64 of 82) are operating under current teacher contracts while 18 districts are operating under expired contracts. [2] Four of the districts with expired contracts have contracts that lapsed more than a year ago. The District of Columbia, Philadelphia and Providence are operating with contracts that expired in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Buffalo has been operating under an expired contract for over a decade, the last contract having expired in 2004.

Among the districts that do not negotiate contracts and generally operate under board policy, the majority (24 of 39) are in states where collective bargaining is prohibited; the rest are in states where districts may choose whether or not to bargain if employees request to do so.  More information on the legality of collective bargaining can be found on the State Influence page of the database.

Among the districts that do not collectively bargain, there are a few cases where districts have opted for some form of collaboration with teachers. In Harrison County (CO), the district works with teachers, who are not represented by a union, in a collaborative decision making process. Mesa (AZ) and Norfolk (VA) also work with teachers to outline working conditions and benefits, although the ultimate decision making authority rests with the district.

The Teacher Contract Database is constantly being updated with the most recent changes in teacher contracts and board policies. Visit the database to see the latest agreements in 121 districts across the country and keep reading the Teacher Trendline to keep up with the latest trends in district policy. 

[1] Milwaukee is counted as a district that operates under board policy. The district does continue to collectively bargain with the teachers union over base salaries, but all other working conditions are under full control of the district in accordance with Wisconsin state law.

[2] At the time of writing, Pinellas County (FL) and Brevard County (FL) are technically operating under expired agreements, but tentative agreements in both districts have been reached with school board approval pending.