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Regional School Unit No. 5 Board of Directors v. Coastal Education Association MEA/NEA

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

May 22, 2014

REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT NO. 5 BOARD OF DIRECTORS, Petitioner,
v.
COASTAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION MEA/NEA, Respondent

ORDER

Thomas D. Warren, Justice, Superior Court.

Before the court is a motion by petitioner Regional School Unit No. 5 Board of Directors (RSU No. 5) to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of respondent Coastal Education Association (CEA).

The arbitration award determined that RSU No. 5 was not entitled under its collective bargaining agreement with CEA to require teachers at two elementary schools in Freeport to be in their classrooms during the 10 minutes at the start of the school day in order to greet and supervise the students entering the classrooms. The arbitrator's ruling was based on the arbitrator's interpretation of Article 9(E) of the contract, which provides:

All educators will be in the building ten (10) minutes before the beginning of their defined instructional day. Educators will remain ten (10) minutes after the end of their defined instructional day, except on the last workday of the week. Educators recognize that they have a responsibility to be in their rooms and ready to start the student day at the beginning of each school day.

The arbitrator concluded that the above provision -- by requiring only (1) that teachers be " in the building" 10 minutes before the start of the school day and (2) that they be " in their rooms . . . at the beginning of each school day" -- did not require teachers to be in their classrooms for the 10 minutes before the beginning of the instructional day.

RSU No. 5 acknowledges that an arbitration award cannot ordinarily be vacated based on an argument that the arbitrator's interpretation of the contract was erroneous.[1] RSU No. 5 argues, however, that the issue in question involves a question of educational policy which is not subject to collective bargaining pursuant to 26 M.R.S. § 965(1)(C). See School Administrative District No. 58 v. Mt. Abram Teachers Association , 1997 ME 219 ¶ 5, 704 A.2d 349. As a result, RSU No. 5 argues, the arbitration decision and award should be vacated because the arbitrator exceeded his power. 14 M.R.S. § 5938(1)(C).

The basis of RSU No. 5's argument that issues of educational policy are not subject to arbitration is 26 M.R.S. § 965(1)(C), which provides that public employers and public employee unions are obligated to engage in collective bargaining with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration

except that by such obligation neither party may be compelled to agree to a proposal or be required to make a concession and except that public employers of teachers shall meet and consult but not negotiate with respect to educational policies; for the purposes of this paragraph, educational policies may not include wages, hours, working conditions, or contract grievance arbitration.

(emphasis added).

RSU No. 5 raised its contention that the dispute was not arbitrable in the proceedings before the arbitrator. See Arbitration Decision at 8.

Threshold Issues

There are two preliminary issues that need to be addressed. The first involves CEA's contentions that certain of the documents submitted by RSU No. 5 should be disregarded. First, CEA contends that RSU No. 5 cannot rely on the affidavit of Shannon Welch because RSU No. 5 is not entitled to rely on evidence that was not presented to the arbitrator. As far as the court can tell, however, the submission of affidavits is permitted in connection with motions to vacate an arbitration award. See Concord General Mutual Insurance Co. v. Northern Assurance Co., 603 A.2d 470, 472 (Me. 1992) (on a motion to vacate an arbitration award, the court has the discretion to receive evidence by affidavit, deposition, or oral testimony). In addition, based on the briefs submitted by RSU No. 5 before the arbitrator (annexed to RSU No. 5's motion to vacate), the Welch affidavit essentially reiterates evidence that RSU No. 5 in fact presented to the arbitrator. See, e.g., RSU No. 5 Post Hearing Brief dated November 7, 2013 at 12 (Ex. D to Motion to Vacate).

RSU No 5 also annexed a portion of CEA's own post-hearing arbitration brief to RSU No. 5's reply memorandum. CEA has moved to strike that brief or in the alternative to include the entire brief in the record. The motion to strike is denied; CEA's entire post hearing brief is included in the record and has been considered by the court.

The second issue to be addressed at the outset is CEA's position that, by agreeing to the inclusion of Article 9(E) in the contract, RSU No. 5 agreed to bargain on the issue of the 10 minute period before the beginning of the school day and is therefore bound by the arbitrator's decision as to the interpretation of that provision. CEA contends that even if requiring teachers to be in their classrooms to greet and supervise elementary school students at the beginning of the school day is an issue of educational ...


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