California Supreme Court Upholds LAUSD's Refusal to Arbitrate Collective Bargaining Provisions Which Directly Conflict With Charter School Laws

Lozano Smith Client News Brief
July 2012
Number 37

The California Supreme Court, in United Teachers of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School District (June 28, 2012) __ Cal.4th __ (2012 WL 2428928), has ruled that a petition to compel arbitration should be denied if the collective bargaining provisions at issue directly conflict with provisions of the Education Code. While the disputed provisions in this case concerned charter schools, the decision provides welcome clarification about the general scope of an arbitrator's powers under the Education Employment Relations Act (EERA).

In May 2007, Green Dot Charter Schools filed a petition with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to convert one of LAUSD's schools to a charter school. The petition was approved in September 2007; the following May, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) filed a grievance claiming that LAUSD had violated portions of the collective bargaining agreement by failing: (1) to present the complete charter to employees; (2) to give affected employees and the community a reasonable opportunity to review and discuss the plan; (3) to give the union a copy of the proposed charter for review; and (4) to clearly and fully disclose the conditions of employment within the charter school. Among the remedies sought by the union was rescission of the charter granted by the LAUSD governing board. The district refused to arbitrate, citing Education Code section 47611.5, subdivision (e), which provides that the approval of a charter school petition shall not be controlled by a collective bargaining agreement. LAUSD further argued that the entire section of the contract concerning charter school approval was invalid because it required the district to take steps beyond those set forth in the charter school law.

In refusing to arbitrate, LAUSD relied on the California Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Board of Education v. Round Valley Teachers Assn. 13 Cal.4th 269 (Round Valley), in which the Supreme Court vacated an arbitrator's award that reinstated a probationary teacher who had been released pursuant to the Education Code but had not been afforded additional due process protections called for under the collective bargaining agreement. InRound Valley, the Court made it clear that the legislature had vested exclusive discretion in governing boards regarding the release of probationary teachers, so the provisions granting additional protections were unlawful and unenforceable.

The trial court in the present case agreed with LAUSD; the Court of Appeal, however, reversed, stating that Round Valley dealt with a post-arbitration dispute about enforcement of the arbitrator's order, and not with the question of whether a district could refuse in the first instance to arbitrate provisions it believed to be unlawful. In reversing the Court of Appeal, the California Supreme Court interpreted a somewhat convoluted body of case law and made it clear that because labor relations in public schools "significantly intersect with educational goals affecting society as a whole," contractual provisions that "annul, set aside, or replace provisions of the Education Code cannot be enforced."

Turning to the portion of the Education Code governing charter schools, the Supreme Court noted that section 47611.5 explicitly forbids control of the charter school approval or denial process by means of a collective bargaining agreement. The Court reviewed the detailed provisions of the Charter School Act (Ed. Code, §§ 47601 et seq.), reasoning that some of the provisions of the agreement might be directed at the sharing of information rather than controlling the approval process, and might therefore be seen as lawful, but adding that UTLA had failed to describe violations with enough specificity for the Court to make that determination. The Court added that while the rescission of charter school approval was beyond an arbitrator's powers, prospective remedies that did not conflict with the statute might not be, and remanded the case to the trial court with orders to direct UTLA to file an amended petition stating with specificity which collective bargaining provisions were at issue and why those provisions did not replace, annul, or set aside provisions of the Charter School Act.

Lozano Smith filed an amicus brief on behalf of California School Boards Association/Education Legal Alliance in this matter, focusing on the collective bargaining issues that were addressed by the Supreme Court. If you have any questions regarding this decision, please feel free to contact one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website or follow Lozano Smith on Facebook.
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As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.