Editorial: Don’t hide wage and benefit deals

The board of Bend-La Pine Schools approved a contract this week with its teachers union, classified union and agreements with other staff.

What’s in those contracts? What pay raises? What benefit changes?

If a member of the public had gone to the board meeting on Tuesday night, they wouldn’t know.

The board passed those contracts in its consent agenda. The board never publicly announced a summary of what those contracts contained before passing them. The contracts or a summary of the key elements were not available online. The contracts are not written.

The board did approve wage increases and benefit changes. Board members know what those elements of the contract are. District staff know what’s in them. The unions know. And now the deal is done. The contracts are approved.

Taxpayers and parents are in the dark.

It is true that board members participated in the bargaining sessions with the union. And as the district pointed out, a member of The Bulletin’s editorial board attended one of the bargaining sessions. But, of course, that is not the final deal.

The district also pointed out that the school board, which represents the public, reviewed the contracts in executive session and a member of the The Bulletin’s editorial board was in that meeting. That’s true. But the reason the board holds executive sessions is to discuss things that it does not want to discuss in public. There are legal constraints on what the media can report on and how it can report on executive sessions. If the board wanted the public to know what was in the contracts, it needed to make an effort. It did not.

After the meeting, we requested what the board approved. The district says there are no contracts, yet. The district sent us a half-page chart. It’s what the board saw.

The chart may make sense if you have district staff to ask what things mean or follow schools closely. Otherwise, it’s a puzzle.

Making the public aware of what’s in the contract is either not important to the district, or it didn’t occur to it. Neither is flattering.

The district should at least summarize its critical contracts before voting on them. It should put a summary online in its agenda packet so the public can see what the district is doing before the deal is done. Right now, it should release easily digestible information about the contracts it just approved.

Unfortunately, there is rarely a significant turnout of the public at school board meetings. But if members of the public had gone to the last meeting, they would have been told nothing about one of the district’s biggest expenses.