“It’s going to save us about $690,000 in 2011-2012,” says Schilling. Insurance costs that had been about $2.5 million a year will now be around $1.8 million. What union leaders said would be a catastrophe will in fact be a boon to teachers and students.

But the effect of weakening collective bargaining goes beyond money. It also has the potential to reshape the adversarial culture that often afflicts public education. In Hartland-Lakeside, there’s been no war between union-busting bureaucrats on one side and impassioned teachers on the other; Schilling speaks with great collegiality toward the teachers and says with pride that they’ve been able to work together on big issues. But there has been a deep division between the school district and top union executives.

In the health insurance talks, for example, Schilling last year began telling teachers about different insurance plans, some of which, like United HealthCare’s, required a higher deductible. “We involved them, and they overwhelmingly endorsed the change to United HealthCare,” he says. But even with the teachers on board, when school officials presented a change-in-coverage proposal to union officials, it was immediately rejected. The costly WEA Trust deal stayed in place.

Now, with the collective bargaining agreement gone, Schilling looks forward to working more closely with teachers. “I would say the biggest change is we have a lot more involvement with a wider scope of teachers,” he says.