Charter schools and teachers unions mix about as well as oil and water. So it's no surprise to see a teachers union oppose a plan to convert a standard public school into a charter school.
Seeing such a battle go all the way to the California Supreme Court on the question of arbitration is slightly less common.
Green Dot Public Schools filed a charter petition with the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education in 2007 to convert Alain Leroy Locke High School (Locke High School) to a charter school. The board granted the charter school petition.
In 2008, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) challenged the charter by filing a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the District and UTLA.
UTLA claimed that the District violated 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.
(The District refused to arbitrate the controversy, prompting UTLA's petition to compel arbitration and a slew of court battles.)
The District argued that UTLA's grievances could not be arbitrated because the collective bargaining provisions that UTLA sought to enforce conflict with Education Code Section 47611.5, which provides that the approval of a charter school petition "shall not be controlled by a collective bargaining agreement."
Further, the District argued that a collective bargaining agreement that requires the District to take procedural steps beyond what is required under Education Code Section 47605 is invalid.
The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a court faced with a petition to compel arbitration to enforce collective bargaining provisions between a union and a school district should deny the petition if the collective bargaining provisions at issue directly conflict with provisions of the Education Code. (In other words, if the provisions would annul, replace, or set aside Education Code provisions.)
The court further held that, under the Education Code, an arbitrator has no authority to deny or revoke a school charter, (which UTLA had requested).
The state's highest court declined to express a view on whether the collective bargaining provisions cited in UTLA's petition conflicted with the Education Code because UTLA had not specifically identified which collective bargaining provisions the District allegedly violated.
UTLA will have another chance to make its case in the trial court; the California Supreme Court remanded the case to allow UTLA to identify the allegedly-violated provisions, and to allow the parties to address whether the provisions actually conflict with the Education Code.