Education, Thompson, Uncategorized

Appellate court rules in favor of Thompson Board of Education

File photo - Todd Shepherd
File photo – Todd Shepherd

Round two goes to the Thompson School District Board of Education.

A preliminary injunction against the BOE pertaining to its 2015-16 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Thompson Education Association has been reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

An MOU is a collective bargaining agreement with a teachers association that outlines what benefits and privileges the association and its members have. It also recognizes the association as the sole authority to bargain collectively on behalf of all teachers in the district.

In early September Larimer County District Court Judge Julie Field granted the TEA a temporary injunction to keep in place the 2014-15 union contract until a breach of contract case can be heard.

The district filed for appeal on that injunction. It received a $150,000 grant from the Daniels Fund to cover the cost of legal fees and avoid further costs to the taxpayers of the Thompson School District.

In its order Thursday, the three-panel appellate court judges ordered a stay on the injunction until further order of the court. Judges Anthony J Navarro and Michael H. Berger voted in favor of the stay. John R. Webb dissented. In the strongest part of the order the ruling majority found, “The District will suffer irreparable injury absent a stay because the District has the constitutional responsibility to govern the affairs of the District. The preliminary injunction interferes with the District’s ability to exercise this constitutionally-mandated function.”

The court said it would issue an opinion in due course on the merits of the appeal of the preliminary injunction.

Board President Bob Kerrigan said he was excited to hear the news and believed the ruling supported the work of the board majority.

“I am relieved,” Kerrigan said. “I am excited for where it takes us. I am so happy the court system recognized our constitutional rights. Hopefully the community will see the board has been doing what’s in the best interest of our kids. We have done everything upfront and transparently.”

Kerrigan said he was also thankful to the Daniels Fund for helping the board keep its money in the classrooms but still be able to fight something vital to a board’s ability to manage its district.

The underlying issue in the dispute is whether the board negotiated in good faith. TEA says it did not, arguing that board members were not clear about their concerns, and that the board thus had a contractual obligation to ratify one of the two tentative agreements that emerged from negotiations.

Thompson School Board in September 2015 - Photo: Sherrie Peif
Thompson School Board in September 2015 – Photo: Sherrie Peif

Board majority members argued that they did negotiate in good faith, and that good faith means only that an attempt must be made to reach a satisfactory conclusion, not that an agreement will necessarily be reached.

They cite an extension of negotiations past a contractual deadline, numerous instances of verbal guidance during board meetings, and voluntarily agreeing to participate in non-binding arbitration as evidence of good faith negotiation.

The original order by Field was unprecedented in Colorado courts in that it marked first time a judge had forced a district to abide by a union contract after the board voted not to ratify an agreement with the union

The appellate court said in its ruling that it took into consideration four factors: Whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits; whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and where the public interest lies.

“The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has expired by its terms,” the order reads. “Under separation of powers doctrine, and the local school district control provision of the Colorado Constitution, the district has made a strong showing that a court lacks the power to order a school district to abide by an expired collective bargaining agreement.”

The judges also ruled that the remedy asked for by the TEA – a new ratification vote on the MOU allowing a no vote for only certain reasons – is not legally permissible form of equitable relief that could be awarded by the district court. Additionally, the appellate court agreed with the district that the relief sought in the injunction was more than the relief gained if the TEA were successful in the final hearing.

“The current injunction goes far beyond TEA’s requested remedy after a trial on the merits,” the appellate court judges determined. “… If no legally permissible equitable relief is available, there is no basis for a preliminary injunction requiring the District to continue to abide by the expired MOU.”

Webb argued the TEA could suffer irreparable harm if the BOE choses to separate from the TEA and strip it of its exclusive bargaining power.

“And as a result, the lower court would lose its power to impose any relief other than damages,” Webb wrote. “… TEA has represented the teachers for almost 40 years, but the district does not point to any disruption of its management by TEA during that time. … True enough the board may wish to align the district with the majority of the other school district that have chosen not to recognize a bargaining representative. But that wish does not arise from either past harm or imminent future harm.”

The appellate court judges agreed the stay would likely injure TEA, but concluded that the balance of all the factors favored granting the stay.

“The public interest in the exercise of the powers granted by the Colorado Constitution to duly elected officials to manage the school district, without unnecessary interference by the courts, weighs against a preliminary injunction under the facts presented,” the motion read.


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