The Arkansas Supreme Court today rejected appeals from employee unions in the Pulaski County Special School District of the state’s refusal to recognize their employment contracts after it took over management of the school district in 2011.
The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff sued when Education Director Tom Kimbrell told Jerry Guess, the interim superintendent, to withdraw recognition of the unions after the state took over the school district in June 2011 because of financial problems. A round of cost cutting ensued and union workers lost a number of benefits with the end of the contracts, as well as changes in pay. The losses included several pertaining to work rules and continuing education.
The unions and new administration had bargained fruitlessly on new contract terms before Kimbrell’s decision.
The decision today upholds Judge Mary McGowan’s decision to dismiss four lawsuits against the district because the state is immune from being sued. The unions had argued that the state might have authority, in a situation of fiscal distress, to alter financial terms of their contract but not some of the non-financial requirements. Judge McGowan rejected that argument in dismissing the case and the Supreme Court upheld her ruling today.
Here’s the Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Paul Danielson. He said, simply, that the plaintiffs were “mistaken” in think the state’s authority was limited to fiscal issues and didn’t include personnel policy. He said they wanted the court to “read limiting language into the statute that is simply not there.” It said there was no proof the Education Department had exceeded its authority or acted in bad faith. The court declined to rule on an original complaint that the end of the contracts violated the Administrative Procedures Act because it had not been discussed in the lower court ruling.