Montgomery County Educ. Ass'n, Inc. v. Board of Educ. of Montgomery County, No. 57

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued Before MURPHY; ELDRIDGE
Citation311 Md. 303,534 A.2d 980
Decision Date28 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. 57
Parties, 127 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3250, 43 Ed. Law Rep. 720 MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, INC. v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY. Sept. Term 1986.

Page 303

311 Md. 303
534 A.2d 980, 127 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3250,
43 Ed. Law Rep. 720
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, INC.
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY.
No. 57 Sept. Term 1986.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Dec. 28, 1987.

Page 304

James R. Whattam (Walter S. Levin, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Roger W. Titus (Titus, Glasgow, on the brief), Rockville, for appellee.

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Argued Before MURPHY, C.J., ELDRIDGE, COLE, RODOWSKY, COUCH * and McAULIFFE, JJ., and MARVIN H. SMITH (retired) Specially Assigned.

[534 A.2d 981] ELDRIDGE, Judge.

Maryland Code (1978, 1985 Repl.Vol.), § 6-408(b)(1) of Education Article, empowers a public school employer and its employees' designated representatives to "meet and negotiate" a collective bargaining agreement relating to "salaries, wages, hours, and other working conditions." Section 6-408(a)(2) of the Education Article permits the parties to "provide for binding arbitration of grievances arising under the [collective bargaining] agreement that the parties have agreed to be subject to arbitration." This case requires us to decide whether the employees' designated representatives may require a public school employer to negotiate, and thus possibly to arbitrate, the issues of the school calendar and job reclassification. 1

I.

The Montgomery County Education Association, Inc. ("MCEA") is the designated representative for teachers and certain other professional personnel employed by the Montgomery

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County Board of Education ("the County Board"). In 1970, MCEA claimed that the County Board had violated the collective bargaining agreement then in force by unilaterally adopting a school calendar and reclassifying staff positions. The State Board of Education, however, ruled that the County Board was not obliged to negotiate either of these issues. MCEA v. Board of Educ. of Montgomery Co., No. 70-1, 1 Opinions of the Md. State Bd. of Educ. 35 (1970) ("Opinion 70-1"). According to the State Board, establishing a school calendar was a local board's "prerogative." Moreover, in the State Board's view, reclassification decisions rested in a local board's "complete control" and were therefore "non-negotiable."

Over the next thirteen years, the parties negotiated several collective bargaining agreements, and MCEA did not challenge Opinion 70-1. While the parties were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in 1983, however, MCEA submitted an initial proposal that included the subjects of the school calendar and job reclassification. Relying on Opinion 70-1, the County Board declined to negotiate with regard to these subjects. MCEA then brought its case before the State Board, asking it to overrule Opinion 70-1 and to order the County Board to negotiate these issues. 2

The State Board referred the matter to a Hearing Examiner. Before the Hearing Examiner, MCEA advanced a broad, literal interpretation of § 6-408(b)(1). Under this interpretation, any matter that relates, apparently even tangentially, to "salaries, wages, hours, and other working conditions," could be subject to collective bargaining. MCEA contended that the calendar related to working conditions and that job reclassification related to salary; therefore, MCEA concluded, both issues were negotiable. The County Board, on the other hand, urged a narrower

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interpretation, which would ensure that the Board, and not an arbitrator, would carry out the Board's statutory duties to determine and implement educational policy.

On the calendar issue, the Hearing Examiner concluded that Opinion 70-1's original rationale was still valid; therefore, she recommended that the State Board reaffirm this aspect of its prior opinion. As to the reclassification issue, the Hearing Examiner[534 A.2d 982] concluded that subjecting such decisions to collective bargaining would lead to continual negotiations between the County Board and its three unions. This in turn, she believed, would create chaos in the management function and erode the statutory provisions that empower local boards to manage public school systems. Nevertheless, she recommended that the State Board modify Opinion 70-1 to require the County Board to negotiate with respect to an "across-the-board" provision that would protect employees whose salaries had been reduced by reclassification.

The State Board adopted the Hearing Examiner's findings of fact and conclusions of law, except for the final recommendation that Opinion 70-1 be modified in part. According to the State Board, a requirement that the County Board negotiate concerning a provision to protect employees adversely affected by reclassification would lead to the same difficulties that would arise from a requirement that the County Board negotiate reclassification issues in general. Adopting MCEA's terminology, the State Board concluded that such a provision was not a "mandatory" subject of collective bargaining. MCEA v. Board of Educ. of Montgomery Co., No. 84-31, 3 Opinions of the Md. State Bd. of Educ. 602 (1984).

MCEA filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County an action for judicial review of the State Board's decision. The circuit court agreed with the State Board's conclusion that the school calendar was nonnegotiable. The court held, however, that the salary impact of reclassification decisions was a "mandatory" subject of collective bargaining,

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and the court reversed this aspect of the State Board's decision.

Both the County Board and MCEA appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. In a reported opinion, the intermediate appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part, stating that "the 'true intent and meaning' of § 6-408(b) is laced with educational policy considerations" and that "the State Board's decision should therefore have been regarded as final." Bd. of Educ. v. Montgomery Co. Educ. Ass'n, 66 Md.App. 729, 743-744, 505 A.2d 905 (1986). 3

MCEA filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. Because of the importance of the issues presented, we granted the petition.

II.

Initially, MCEA asserts that the Court of Special Appeals gave "the State Board absolute, total, final, and unreviewable authority over any matter involving educational policy," and that "this is a completely inaccurate

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reading of prior Maryland cases dealing with the scope of judicial review of State Board decisions." (MCEA's brief, p. 10). MCEA goes on to argue that the disputes in this case involve statutory interpretation, namely an interpretation of § 6-408(b)(1) of the Education Article which delineates the scope of collective bargaining negotiations. According to MCEA, this question of statutory interpretation is principally for the reviewing court to resolve, as "courts have far greater expertise[534 A.2d 983] in this area of statutory construction than the legally unskilled members of the State Board of Education." (Id. at 16). MCEA concludes that the State Board's interpretation of § 6-408(b)(1) is erroneous.

It is true that, under our cases, a reviewing court should not always defer entirely to the State Board's interpretation of a statute. If the State Board's interpretation or application of § 6-408(b)(1), in a particular situation, would clearly be contrary to the statute's plain meaning, a reviewing court must reject that interpretation. See, e.g., Board of Educ., Garrett Co. v. Lendo, 295 Md. 55, 453 A.2d 1185 (1982). We disagree, however, with MCEA's position that reviewing courts should consider virtually de novo the State Board's resolution of issues arising under § 6-408(b)(1).

For a number of reasons, the State Board's interpretation and application of § 6-408(b)(1) is entitled to a great deal of deference from reviewing courts. An agency's interpretation of the statute it administers is generally entitled to weight. Bd. of Ed. for Dorchester Co. v. Hubbard, 305 Md. 774, 790-791, 506 A.2d 625, 633 (1986); Comm'n on Hum. Rel. v. Mass Transit, 294 Md. 225, 233, 449 A.2d 385, 389 (1982), and cases there cited. This principle is particularly important in the case of the State Board of Education. As pointed out in Bd. of Ed. for Dorchester Co. v. Hubbard, supra, 305 Md. at 791, 506 A.2d at 633, "the paramount role of the State Board of Education in interpreting the public education law sets it apart from most administrative agencies." Section 2-205(e)(1) of the Education Article of the Code provides that the State Board "shall explain the true intent and meaning" of the Education Article and the

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bylaws, rules, and regulations promulgated thereunder. In addition, § 2-205(e)(3) provides that, in controversies and disputes under the above provisions, the State Board's decision is "final." These broad powers necessarily circumscribe the scope of judicial review of State Board decisions.

Moreover, unlike some other issues, the interpretation of § 6-408(b)(1) is fraught with questions of educational policy. The General Assembly has charged the State Board, not the courts, with the duty of determining the elementary and secondary educational policies of the State. § 2-205(b)(1). This duty must further circumscribe the scope of judicial review under § 6-408(b)(1).

There are two additional reasons for deference in this case. First, MCEA has drawn into question the State Board's longstanding interpretation of § 6-408(b)(1), an interpretation that was adopted almost contemporaneously with the enactment of that statute and that the General Assembly has left unchanged. Courts generally should defer to such interpretations. Board of Educ., Garrett Co. v. Lendo, supra, 295 Md. at 63, 453 A.2d at 1189. Second, the resolution of the issues involved in this case could have a substantial impact on the State Board's authority. As we observed in Hubbard, supra, where we discussed, but declined to decide, these issues (305 Md. at 791-792, 506 A.2d at 633-634):

"The ... [employees] have ... argued for an extremely broad...

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47 practice notes
  • Donlon v. Montgomery Cnty. Pub. Sch., No. 68
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 12, 2018
    ...boards of education are, of course, state agencies and not agencies of the county governments."); Mont. Cnty. Ed. Ass'n v. Bd. of Educ., 311 Md. 303, 317, 534 A.2d 980, 987 (1987) (recognizing county boards of education as State agencies, in the course of contextualizing the issue of whethe......
  • Martin v. Allegany Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 1070
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 28, 2013
    ...law sets it apart from most administrative agencies.’ ” Montgomery County Educ. Ass'n, Inc. v. Bd. of Education of Montgomery County, 311 Md. 303, 309, 534 A.2d 980 (1987)[hereinafter “Montgomery County Educ. Ass'n ”] (quoting Bd. of Educ. for Dorchester County v. Hubbard, 305 Md. 774, 791,......
  • Atkinson v. Anne Arundel Cnty., No. 788, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 28, 2018
    ...set out infra , that the Court of Appeals endorsed in 236 Md.App. 163 Montgomery Cty. Ed. Ass'n, Inc. v. Bd. of Ed. of Montgomery Cty. , 311 Md. 303, 534 A.2d 980 (1987) [hereinafter " MCEA "].The County responds that Appellants' reading of Charter § 812—that every term and condition of emp......
  • Donlon v. Montgomery Cnty. Pub. Sch., No. 68, Sept. Term 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 12, 2018
    ...boards of education are, of course, state agencies and not agencies of the county governments."); Mont. Cnty. Ed. Ass'n v. Bd. of Educ. , 311 Md. 303, 317, 534 A.2d 980, 987 (1987) (recognizing county boards of education as State agencies, in the course of contextualizing the issue of wheth......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
47 cases
  • Donlon v. Montgomery Cnty. Pub. Sch., No. 68
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 12, 2018
    ...boards of education are, of course, state agencies and not agencies of the county governments."); Mont. Cnty. Ed. Ass'n v. Bd. of Educ., 311 Md. 303, 317, 534 A.2d 980, 987 (1987) (recognizing county boards of education as State agencies, in the course of contextualizing the issue of whethe......
  • Martin v. Allegany Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 1070
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 28, 2013
    ...law sets it apart from most administrative agencies.’ ” Montgomery County Educ. Ass'n, Inc. v. Bd. of Education of Montgomery County, 311 Md. 303, 309, 534 A.2d 980 (1987)[hereinafter “Montgomery County Educ. Ass'n ”] (quoting Bd. of Educ. for Dorchester County v. Hubbard, 305 Md. 774, 791,......
  • Atkinson v. Anne Arundel Cnty., No. 788, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 28, 2018
    ...set out infra , that the Court of Appeals endorsed in 236 Md.App. 163 Montgomery Cty. Ed. Ass'n, Inc. v. Bd. of Ed. of Montgomery Cty. , 311 Md. 303, 534 A.2d 980 (1987) [hereinafter " MCEA "].The County responds that Appellants' reading of Charter § 812—that every term and condition of emp......
  • Donlon v. Montgomery Cnty. Pub. Sch., No. 68, Sept. Term 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 12, 2018
    ...boards of education are, of course, state agencies and not agencies of the county governments."); Mont. Cnty. Ed. Ass'n v. Bd. of Educ. , 311 Md. 303, 317, 534 A.2d 980, 987 (1987) (recognizing county boards of education as State agencies, in the course of contextualizing the issue of wheth......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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