City of Biddeford by Board of Ed. v. Biddeford Teachers Ass'n

Decision Date30 April 1973
Citation304 A.2d 387
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Sanborn, Moreshead & Schade by Richard B. Sanborn, Augusta, for plaintiffs.

Locke, Campbell & Chapman by Frank G. Chapman, Augusta, for defendants.



These two complaints necessitate our first examination of the provisions of the Municipal Employees Labor Relations Law, 26 M.R.S.A. Chap. 9-A, which was enacted by the Maine Legislature in 1969. The complaints direct our attention only to the application of the statute to teachers in the public schools.

In the fall of 1970 the Board of Education of the City of Biddeford and the representatives of the Biddeford Teachers Association entered into negotiations in an attempt to effect a contract for the professional services of teachers in the Biddeford public schools for the school year 1971-1972. 1 When the Board and the Association were unable to reach an agreement, the fact-finding procedures provided in section 965(3) were called into play but they proved unsuccessful. Finally, in August of 1971 the parties resorted to the arbitration process found in section 965(4).

The three arbitrators held a hearing on the various provisions of the proposed contract which were in dispute on September 22 and 23, 1971. Both sides were given opportunity to offer testimony and documentary evidence and to present argument on the disputed issues. Later, on November 17, 1971 the arbitration panel issued a unanimous decision in which it made findings and determinations as to disputed sections and directed the parties to enter into a written agreement (retroactive to September 1, 1971) which included each of their determinations.

The Board refused to enter into the agreement and on December 13, 1971 the Association brought an 80B complaint against the Board and the Superintendent of Schools asking that the Defendants be ordered to comply with the determination of the arbitration panel and enjoined from continuing to refuse to do so.

On December 14, 1971 the Board brought an 80B complaint against the Association (and the two then surviving arbitrators) alleging that the award contained erroneous rulings of law and fact and was invalidated by partiality of an arbitrator and by prejudicial conduct of the hearing.

The two actions were consolidated for appeal and, upon the parties' agreement, the consolidated actions were ordered reported to us upon the complaints, answers stipulation 'for such final decision as the rights of the parties may require'. The stipulation presents for our study the 1970-1971 contract, the 1971-1972 contract, the Determinations and Recommendations of the Arbitration Tribunal and the agreed fact that 'David W. Bustin (one of the arbitrators) is employed full time by the Maine Teachers Association with which the Biddeford Teachers Association is affiliated and participated as advisor on behalf of the latter association at various times in the bargaining process prior to the arbitration.'

The purpose of the Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law is stated by 26 M.R.S.A. § 961 as follows:

'It is declared to be the public policy of this State and it is the purpose of this chapter to promote the improvement of the relationship between public employers and their employees by providing a uniform basis for recognizing the right of public employees to join labor organizations of their own choosing and to be represented by such organizations in collective bargaining for terms and conditions of employment.'

Unquestionably the Board of Education of the City of Biddeford is a public employer as defined by the Act, and the Association is composed of teachers in the Biddeford public schools who are among the public employees who are entitled to the benefit of the Act. The authority of the Association to represent the teachers as their chosen bargaining agent is not disputed.

The Act makes it the obligation of the public employer and the bargaining agent to meet and bargain collectively and provides a four-step procedure consisting of negotiation, mediation (when jointly requested), fact finding and arbitration. 2 The parties are first obligated to negotiate in good faith concerning 'wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration'-with the exception-

'. . . (T)hat public employers of teachers shall meet and consult but not negotiate with respect to educational policies for the purpose of this paragraph, educational policies shall not include wages, hours, working conditions or contract grievance arbitration;' 3

Secondly, if the parties are unable to agree after negotiation they may jointly agree upon mediation procedures. Thirdly, if mediation procedures are omitted or are unsuccessful, either one or both may request fact-finding and the parties are then obligated to present their contending positions to the fact-finding board which will, after hearing, submit its findings to the parties. If a 30-day period of further effort to resolve the controversy is unsuccessful either party may make the findings public. Fifteen more days are then allowed to permit a further good faith effort to resolve the controversy. Fourth, and lastly, if, after another ten days they have not agreed as to an arbitration procedure, either party may request in writing that their differences shall be arbitrated in accordance with the procedure described in subsection 4.

In brief, this procedure requires each party to choose an arbitrator and the two so chosen shall name a 'neutral' arbitrator. The three arbitrators shall then proceed to hear the matter. If the subject of the controversy has been salaries, pensions or insurance, the arbitrators shall recommend terms of settlement which are advisory only and may make findings of fact. As to other matters in dispute the arbitrators shall make determinations which are binding upon the parties and 'the parties will enter into an agreement or take whatever other action that may be appropriate to carry out and effectuate such binding determinations'. The determinations are subject to review in accordance with M.R.C.P., Rule 80B but, in the absence of fraud, the arbitrators' decisions upon questions of fact are final. 4


The Act obviously represents a fresh approach to municipal public employee labor relations problems and enters an area as yet unexplored here. In the field of education, particularly, it appears to clash with traditional concepts of school control and management. As a result, members of the Board here-as several school boards in other jurisdictions have done-protest that if the members entered into the proposed contract, as the arbitration award has ordered them to do-they would be surrendering their authority as public officers to persons who are in no way responsible to the electorate.

Traditionally, the control of the public schools has been entrusted to the local school boards since our State's earliest days. When our Constitution was adopted on October 29, 1819, Article VIII read:

'A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools; . . .'

The first Legislature promptly acted upon this directive (P.L.1821 Chap. 117) by (sec. 1) requiring the various towns to raise money for maintenance of public schools 5 and (sec. 3) by giving local school committees responsibility as to the qualification of teachers, the books to be used and the conduct of the local educational process. 6 Although the nature of the educational units changed with the growth of our communities through the years, 7 the responsibility for the management of local public educational systems has remained, substantially unchanged, in the local school authorities-primarily the local superintending school committees 8-with the exception of two developments. The Legislature, having originally delegated to local school bodies the entire responsibility for the conduct of public primary and secondary education, soon began taking back selected portions of this authority by enacting specific parcels of legislation which imposed various requirements upon the conduct of the local education process. Examples of this are found today in statutes which create certain school holidays, 9 establish a minimum number of sessions, 10 require that study in hygiene be offered, 11 that health, safety and physical education studies be taught 12 and that the school committees appoint a school physician, etc. 13 In 1868 the Legislature made a single major inroad into local school committee authority when it created the office of State Superintendent of Schools and empowered that officer 'to exercise a general supervision of all the public schools and to advise and direct the town committees in the discharge of their duties'. 14 Later, this official became the Commissioner of Education and, under the reorganization of 1971, became the Commissioner of Education and Cultural Resources. 15 He still retains supervisory powers, now somewhat more detailed, over the conduct of local education. 20 M.R.S.A. § 102, subsections 1 and 7. 16

Until the enactment of the Municipal Employees Labor Relations Law, the local school authorities retained all the responsibility for the operation of the public schools which had not been given to the Commissioner of Education or specifically assumed by the Legislature. The effectiveness of their authority has been limited, of...

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