What Does "Union Free" Mean?

We occasionally are asked why the words "Union Free" are in our district's official, legal name when most of our teachers and staff are members of labor unions, and we realize it can be confusing.

As you might know, the East Rochester Union Free School District has three labor unions: the ER Teachers’ Association, the ER Non-Teaching Union (CSEA, AFSCME, Local 1000, AFL-CIO), and the ER Administrators' Association. However, the "Union Free" in the district's official name has nothing to do with labor unions.

An excerpt from A Guide to the Reorganization of School Districts in New York State from the New York State Education Department describes a Union Free School District as:

In order to provide education on a broader and more effective basis, the 1853 session of the Legislature established the union free school district. As originally conceived, the legislation contemplated two or more common school districts joining to provide a high school. Many of the early union free districts had boundaries coterminous with, or close to, the boundaries of a village or city.

Although the original purpose of the union free district was to provide for a secondary education, about one-sixth of these districts currently do not operate a high school. Today, 151 union free school districts operate, of which 30 provide only elementary education. Eleven of the latter are components of a central high school district; the balance provides secondary education services by contracting with a neighboring district. An additional 16 union free districts have been established solely to serve to children resident in specified childcare institutions; these are often referred to as "special act" school districts.

Union free school districts are governed by a board of education composed of between three and nine members who serve three, four or five year terms. Board size within these limits may be changed by the voters of the district. See Education Law 1702-1703.

For a complete explanation of various kinds of school districts, please visit the NYSED website