State ex rel. Graham v. Northshore School Dist. No. 417

Citation99 Wn.2d 232,662 P.2d 38
Decision Date07 April 1983
Docket NumberNo. 216,W,No. 48445-7,216,48445-7
Parties, 10 Ed. Law Rep. 846 STATE of Washington, on the relation of Robert V. GRAHAM, State Auditor, Appellant, v. NORTHSHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 417, Carol Jean Coe, Washington Education Association, Enumclaw School DistrictR. Pickles, and Enumclaw Education Association, and Mukilteo Education Association, Lake Stevens School District # 4, Mukilteo School District # 6, and Lake Stevens Education Association, and Public Employment Relations Commission, Respondents/Cross-Appellants.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington

Kenneth Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., James K. Pharris, Marjorie R. Schaer, Asst. Attys. Gen., Olympia, Kenneth Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., Richard Heath, Asst. Atty. Gen., Olympia, for appellant.

Sandra R. Driscoll, Gen. Counsel, Northshore School Dist. No. 417, Bothell, Durning, Webster & Lonnquist Judith A. Lonnquist, Seattle, Norm Maleng, Pros. Atty., Sandra Cohen, Civil Deputy Pros. Atty., Seattle, for respondents/cross-appellants.

DIMMICK, Justice.

Declaratory judgment actions were brought by the State of Washington on relation of the State Auditor (Auditor) against four school districts, the local education associations representing the teachers in each respective district, the Washington Education Association (WEA) and two of its officers. The actions were originally brought in King and Snohomish Counties but by agreement of the parties the actions were consolidated for trial in King County. The suit challenged a practice known as "release time" whereby the school districts, as part of their collective bargaining agreements, agreed to allow officers and members of the local education associations to use a limited amount of school time for duties other than normal classroom duties, at the behest of the associations. The Auditor challenged the contract provisions as being (1) beyond the statutory authority of the school districts; (2) unfair labor practices; and (3) unconstitutional gift of public money (this challenge was withdrawn). The Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) intervened challenging the court's authority to decide the unfair labor practice charge. The trial court determined it had jurisdiction to rule on the issue. The court then concluded that the contractual provisions were valid in the cases before it. The Auditor further asserted that service credits being accumulated towards retirement in the teachers' retirement system by Carol Jean Coe, a full-time officer of WEA named as a respondent in this action, are unauthorized. The court refused to reach this issue holding it was not a proper subject for declaratory judgment at this time. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals by the Auditor and PERC and the Court of Appeals certified the case to us. We affirm the trial court in all respects.

The issues presented on appeal, and our resolution of them, are as follows:

1. Did the school districts have statutory authority pursuant to RCW 28A.58.100 to contract for the release time provisions involved in the consolidated cases? We hold they did.

2. Did the trial court properly exercise declaratory judgment jurisdiction in ruling on an unfair labor practice charge when the question is also within the authority of PERC? We hold the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction in deciding this issue.

3. Do the provisions granting release time constitute an unfair labor practice pursuant to RCW 41.59.140? We answer this question in the negative.

4. Did the court properly refuse to decide the issue regarding the validity of Carol Jean Coe's accumulating service credits in the teachers' retirement system? We agree with the trial court that the issue is not a proper subject for declaratory judgment at this time.

The facts pertinent to each issue are set forth in the sections addressing the issues.

I. Statutory Authority for School Districts to agree to release time.

Two types of contract provisions granting release time are the subject of this dispute. The first is referred to as local president's leave. The collective bargaining agreements for the Mukilteo and Enumclaw School Districts provide for release time from normal classroom duties for the local education associations' presidents, without loss of salary or benefits. The trial court found that the Mukilteo president's leave was used

for meetings with teachers, school administrators and other staff regarding collective bargaining, grievances, contract administration and other matters necessary to maintenance of harmonious employer-employee relations. In addition, during release time the Mukilteo Education Association President attended educational conferences and workshops, worked on improving curriculum and methods of teaching, met with community groups and otherwise pursued matters in the interest of the educational program of the Mukilteo School District.

Finding of fact 8. The Enumclaw president's leave was used for similar purposes. Finding of fact 15. These findings are not challenged on appeal.

The second type of release time in dispute is association leave. The collective bargaining agreement for the Mukilteo School District provided association leave of limited amounts of school time for employees designated by the local association. The agreement for the Lake Stevens School District provided for 5 days of paid association leave per year upon request of the local association president for such use as the education association deemed appropriate. The contract for Enumclaw School District also provided release time for designated association representatives. All these leaves were given without loss of salary or benefits and the employees taking leave prepared lesson plans and performed all necessary follow-up work. These leaves were used for the following purposes:

Association leave for Mukilteo employees has been used for attendance at educational and legislative conferences and workshops, and other pursuits toward improvement of curriculum, teaching methodology and overall educational program.

Finding of fact 9.

Lake Stevens employees who took Association leaves did so to attend the annual Representative Assembly of the Washington Education Association wherein issues of instructional development, curriculum, human relations, bilingual education and other educational issues throughout Washington public schools were discussed.

Finding of fact 12.

The Enumclaw release time was used to allow educational employees to attend sessions of the legislature, to participate in grievance-arbitration proceedings, to attend workshops and conferences regarding collective bargaining, arbitration, local education association officer training, legislative issues impacting education, and other topics related to either teaching or labor relations, and to allow an employee serving on the Washington Education Association Board of Directors to attend meetings of that body as well as meetings of local education associations which comprised the constituency for that Director position.

Finding of fact 15. These findings also are not challenged on appeal.

The local education associations reimbursed the districts either for the cost of a substitute for the released teacher, or the proportionate cost of the released teacher's salary.

We are not concerned with the wisdom or usefulness of these leave provisions. We are only concerned with determining whether the school districts are authorized to contract for such provisions. All parties agree that the answer is found in RCW 28A.58.100 which provides in pertinent part:

Every board of directors, unless otherwise specially provided by law, shall:

* * *

(2) Adopt written policies granting leaves to persons under contracts of employment with the school district(s) in positions requiring either certification or noncertification qualifications, including but not limited to leaves for attendance at official or private institutes and conferences and sabbatical leaves for employees in positions requiring certification qualification, and leaves for illness, injury, bereavement and, emergencies for both certificated and noncertificated employees, and with such compensation as the board of directors prescribe ...

The Auditor contends that the only purposes for which leaves may be granted are those specifically listed in the statute (conference attendance, sabbaticals, sick leaves, or compassionate and emergency leaves), or similar types. We do not agree with this restrictive interpretation. We read the statute as merely requiring that written policies be adopted for (a) attendance at institutes and conferences, (b) sabbaticals, and (c) illness, injury, bereavement and emergencies. Beyond the mandatory policies, the school districts are given broad discretion to "transact all business necessary for maintaining school" and to "enter into such obligations as are authorized therefor by law." RCW 28A.58.010. The Legislature specifically used the terms "including, but not limited to" prior to its listing types of paid leave and thus did not limit the discretion afforded school districts in contracting with its employees. 1 Obviously, as noted by the trial court, any leave agreed to must be consistent with operating a school district. In fact, the Auditor emphasizes that there is no objection whatsoever to release time for the conduct of association business "as is demonstrably related to school district functions." Brief of Auditor at 15. He fears, however, that pursuant to the unlimited nature of the release time as granted in the contracts, the leaves will be used for purposes totally unrelated to the functions of school districts. The Auditor's parade of horribles simply has not occurred. As the trial court found in the unchallenged findings of fact set forth above and stated in its memorandum opinion:

The uncontroverted evidence clearly shows that the various types of leave challenged in this case were used for...

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