A Statement from The Wisconsin Association of School Boards concerning Madison’s judge Ruling On ACT 10.
Statement on Act 10 Ruling
Ruling is not a return to bargaining laws that existed prior to February 2011
Sept. 17, 2012
The recent decision of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas, which strikes down a portion of the changes to the collective bargaining laws that were part of Acts 10 and 32, raises operational questions for school districts in the near term, and perhaps into the longer term as well.
One thing that is immediately clear is school boards and unions have not been returned to the bargaining laws that existed prior to February 2011. The circuit court decision struck down only a limited portion of the changes made by Acts 10 and 32. Further, the circuit court’s legal conclusions are subject to a potentially lengthy appeals process.
The following are a few examples of recent changes to the bargaining laws that the circuit court decision did not strike down. These changes will remain in place even if the circuit court’s decision is fully upheld on appeal:
1. Interest arbitration is not available to school district bargaining units. The dispute resolution process ends with mediation. As a result, school boards retain significant control over the final decisions to be made in regard to the management of the school district after they meet in good faith with their bargaining units and attempt to reach a voluntary agreement.
2. For school boards and school district unions, the statutory definition of “collective bargaining” identifies “wages” as the only mandatory subject of bargaining. (For public safety employees and transit employees, mandatory subjects of bargaining include “wages, hours, and conditions of employment.”)
3. School boards and school district bargaining units remain limited to executing one-year collective bargaining agreements.
The specific analysis applicable to each school district will be complex and subject to varying degrees of uncertainty for a period of time. To determine the most prudent path to take going forward, which may involve the need to plan for different possible scenarios, each school board will need to carefully assess its individual situation and seek legal advice. As just one example, school districts that entered into new collective bargaining agreements on the brink of Act 10’s effective date are likely to be in a different situation than those districts that became subject to the full scope of Act 10 as of July 1, 2011.
School boards will also need to closely monitor the subsequent steps of the appeals process. At this early date, there is some uncertainty as to which units of local government are bound by the circuit court order, how the Dane County Circuit Court decision interacts with related litigation that is taking place in other courts, and whether the circuit court decision will take effect immediately or only at the end of the appeal process. In the weeks and months ahead, it is also possible that the appellate courts will modify the circuit court’s decision and order.
School boards throughout Wisconsin successfully navigated the substantial uncertainty and significant changes driven by the initial passage and implementation of Acts 10 and 32. While returning to a state of legal uncertainty surrounding many of the those changes presents a renewed challenge for school officials, our public school districts will once again rise to the occasion while retaining an ultimate focus on the quality of the educational opportunities offered to students. The WASB will strive to assist school leaders in this process by providing its members with timely and practical additional information about this important judicial decision.