California Supreme Court Sides With Charter School and District in Conversion Dispute

June 28, 2012

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In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court (Court) handed charter schools a victory on Thursday, upholding the Charter Schools Act's (Act) mandate that the approval of a charter petition shall not be controlled by collective bargaining agreements. In this case, UTLA's collective bargaining agreement required that conversion charter school petitioners provide certain information to LAUSD and the district's teachers, and that LAUSD provide certain information to UTLA, when a conversion petition is proposed. UTLA filed a grievance, claiming in vague terms that those requirements were not met with regard to the Locke charter petition and demanding that the district rescind the charter. UTLA then filed a lawsuit to compel arbitration, after the district refused.

The District claimed that the agreement's conversion petition requirements were unenforceable because they had the effect of controlling the charter approval process, in conflict with the Act. The District also argued that the agreement's requirements were invalid because they would require procedural steps beyond those set forth in Education Code section 47605.

The Court agreed that any collective bargaining agreement that had the effect of controlling charter approval is invalid. The court made clear that rescission of a charter is not a permissible remedy in arbitration, as the Education Code specifies the exclusive means for approving charters. The court further explained that "[a]ny collective bargaining provision that delays the timelines set forth in section 47605 or adds to an applicant's statutory obligations for securing approval of a charter conflicts with section 47605 and may not be enforced."

Although the Court's decision lets stand LAUSD's approval of the Locke conversion, the dispute is not over. The court sent the case back to the trial court in order for the union to identify the specific collective bargaining provisions that it claims LAUSD violated and to explain how those provisions do not conflict with the Act's authorizing process. The trial court will then decide whether arbitration on any of those alleged violations is required.

CCSA and Green Dot Public Schools filed amicus curiae briefs in the matter.