As school districts and local teachers’ unions try to reach contract agreements by a July 1 deadline, the law appears to give management an upper hand.
Districts probably can issue teacher contracts based on their last best offer, if local school boards and union negotiators fail to come to terms by July 1, according to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office.
Wasden’s office was asked to wade into the thorny negotiations issue by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and his staff. In a pair of letters — including one issued just last week — Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook spelled out the steps for imposing a last best offer.
- A district could declare an impasse in negotiations and offer individual teacher contracts based on its last collective bargaining offer. While such a move is probably “legally defensible,” Snook said in a March 28 letter, it also carries some risk. Declaring an impasse “could potentially be the basis for a bad faith claim lawsuit against the school district.”
- A district probably would have the same authority on July 1, even if it does not declare an impasse, Snook wrote on May 23. In such a situation, the district and the union could continue to negotiate past July 1 on a collective bargaining agreement. In the meantime, said Snook, districts would “likely have the statutory authority” to issue individual teacher contracts based on their last, best offer.
The attorney general’s guidelines give districts more budgeting certainty and a couple of negotiating options, said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. They could base a 2013-14 offer on the current year’s contracts, or issue a new last best offer — which, under new state law, could incorporate a pay raise or a pay cut. Either way, the districts would be able to lock in salary and benefits budgets — which is crucial, she said Thursday, since districts must publish budget proposals in newspaper legal notices next week.
Idaho Education Association officials did not have an immediate comment Thursday.
School boards and unions have been negotiating in uncertainty this spring, since the 2013 Legislature passed several laws reviving pieces of Proposition 1, the labor law rejected by voters in November.
The result is a legal quagmire.
One newly passed law eliminated so-called “evergreen” contract clauses, requiring one-year collective bargaining master agreements that expire on June 30.
A second law requires new contracts to be issued by July 1.
But one controversial piece of the puzzle did not pass: a bill requiring a school board to impose its last best contract offer, if a district and local teachers’ union failed to reach an agreement by June 10. This bill passed the House on nearly a party-line vote, but was held in the Senate on March 29.
Luna first asked for a legal opinion on the negotiations issue on March 26, three days before the “last best offer” bill was scuttled for the session. Snook sent his first opinion to Luna’s office on March 28.