REGION 16 BOARD OF EDUCATION v. CONNECTICUT STATE BOARD OF LABOR RELATIONS et al., SC 18347

Judicial District of New Britain

     Labor; Collective Bargaining; Whether Board of Education Violated Teacher Negotiations Act, General Statutes § 10-153a et seq., by Dealing Directly with Teachers and Failing to Negotiate with Union.  In October of 2004, a special education teacher resigned from his position in the Region 16 school district.  When the plaintiff board of education was unable to find a permanent replacement teacher, the supervisor of the special education department met with the school's remaining special education teachers to decide how best to service the students in light of the vacant position.  They decided that the former teacher's caseload would be divided among the remaining special education teachers for the rest of the school year.  The plaintiff did not meet with the teacher's union regarding this issue.  The special education teachers later complained to the union that their workloads were too great and asked for increased compensation.  As a result, the union filed a complaint with the defendant board of labor relations.  The board found that the plaintiff violated the Teacher Negotiations Act, General Statutes § 10-153a et seq., by failing to negotiate with the union over the workload of the special education teachers and by dealing directly with employees concerning mandatory subjects of bargaining during the term of an existing collective bargaining agreement.  On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the union failed to make a prima facie case of a violation of the act because it did not make the requisite showing that the increase in workload constituted a change in an established practice of the entire bargaining unit. The court disagreed, finding that the union did not need to establish the existence of an established unit-wide practice because the nature and volume of the special education teachers' work is unique and sets them apart from other Region 16 teachers.  Rather, the court found, it was sufficient that the union demonstrated a change to a fixed and definite practice among the special education teachers.  The court also rejected the plaintiff's claims that (1) the board improperly refused to admit, on relevancy grounds, a study concerning the workload of non-special education teachers in the school district; (2) any increase in workload did not constitute a change in a past practice because the workload size changes every year as the number of special education students fluctuates; (3) there was insufficient evidence that the increase in workload of the special education teachers was significant; and (4) the supervisor was merely collaborating with the teachers in an effort to resolve the situation created by  the departing teacher, which was a management issue that did not require bargaining.  The court further rejected the plaintiff's argument that the order of the board directing it to negotiate with the union would lead to a violation of state and federal special education laws.  The plaintiff challenges the decision in this appeal to the Supreme Court.