Connecticut laws/regulations; Court Cases;

OLR Research Report

October 14, 2010




By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director

You asked whether state law gives a local or regional board of education the exclusive right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with teacher and school administrator unions. You also asked what role a municipal board of finance or other municipal fiscal authority plays in teacher contract negotiations.

As you know, the Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be taken as one.


State law gives both boards of education and unions representing teachers and school administrators the duty to negotiate with each other over matters appropriate for collective bargaining. Although the law does not use the word “exclusive” with regard to the board of education's duty in this regard, it can be read to bar any other municipal body, such as a board of finance, from negotiating on the school district's behalf. This is because Connecticut courts have consistently held that neither municipalities nor boards of education have any inherent powers. Instead, they operate at the direction of the state as authorized by the Connecticut General Statutes, and have only the powers authorized by state law.

The respective rights and responsibilities of the state, local and regional boards of education, municipal fiscal and other authorities, and unions representing teachers and school administrators are laid out in detail in the state Teacher Negotiation Act (TNA). This law also establishes the process and timetable for negotiating contracts covering teachers' “wages, hours, and conditions of employment” (CGS 10-153a to 10-153o).

Under the TNA, the board of education conducts negotiations with teacher and school administrator unions over employment and is a party to the resulting contract (CGS 10-153d(b) and 10-153f (e)). The TNA also assigns a specific role to the school district's board of finance or other fiscal authority. That role is to (1) confer with the board of education prior to the start or negotiations, (2) be present at negotiating sessions, and (3) provide any information the board of education asks for.

Since neither board has any powers not expressly specified in state law, the statutory power to negotiate with the union can be said to rest exclusively with the board of education.


Municipal Powers

Connecticut courts have consistently held that (1) towns have only the specific powers granted them by the legislature; (2) an enumeration of powers in a statute forbids things not enumerated; and (3) in determining whether a town has the authority to do something, the court does not search for a statutory prohibition but rather for statutory authority.

In 1995, in Windham Taxpayers Association, et al. v. Board of Selectmen, the Town of Windham, et al. (234 Conn. 513), the Connecticut Supreme Court found: “It is settled law that, as a creation of the state, a municipality has no inherent powers of its own. A municipality has only those powers that have been expressly granted to it by the state or that are necessary to discharge its duties and to carry out its objects and purposes.” Also in 1995, the court ruled that “municipalities in Connecticut have no independent authority or independent responsibility; they are administrative units of the state and can do only what the state authorizes or delegates them to do” (Moore v. Ganim, 233 Conn. 557).

Boards of Education

The Connecticut Constitution guarantees the right to a free public elementary and secondary education and requires the General Assembly to “implement this principle by appropriate legislation” (Art. 8, 1). The state has delegated its responsibility to local and regional boards of education (Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615 (1977); Sheff v. O'Neill, 238 Conn. 1 (1996)).

The statutes charge local and regional boards of education with implementing the state's educational interests. They also require school boards, subject to statutory requirements concerning teacher tenure, termination, and employment by cooperative arrangements, to employ and dismiss the teachers working in the schools under their jurisdiction (CGS 10-220(a)). These statutory powers make a local or regional school board the employer of the teachers in its school district.


Teacher Contract Negotiations

The TNA establishes the roles of the local or regional board of education and the municipal fiscal authority in teacher contract negotiations. It requires a board of education and the union representing the teachers' or school administrators' bargaining unit to “negotiate with respect to salaries, hours and other conditions of employment about which either party wishes to negotiate.” Within 30 days before starting negotiations, the board of education must meet and confer with the district's board of finance or other fiscal authority. A member of the fiscal authority may be present during negotiations and must provide any fiscal information the board requests.

The board of education must file with the town clerk a signed copy of any contract between the board and the union. The contract is binding on the school district's legislative body unless the legislative body, within 30 days, rejects the contract at a regular or special meeting. The law also allows voters to petition for a referendum on whether to reject the contract according to regular procedures for such petitions. The school district's fiscal authority must appropriate the funds required to implement any contract that has not been rejected under the statute (CGS 10-153d (a) and (b)).

Requirement to Negotiate in Good Faith

A common provision of collective bargaining laws requires employers and employees engaged in collective bargaining to “negotiate in good faith.” The TNA includes such a provision. It bars a local or regional board of education from refusing to (1) negotiate in good faith with teachers' and school administrators' authorized representatives or (2) participate in good faith in mediation or arbitration. Since the statute applies specifically to the board of education, only that board can engage in negotiations with teachers unions (CGS 10-153e (b)(4) & (5)).


The TNA allows a local or regional board of education or a union, after negotiations, to submit issues on which they cannot agree to the education commissioner for mediation. The statutory mediation process requires these two parties to, if possible, mutually select a mediator; appear before the education commissioner; share equally the cost of the mediator; and provide any information the commissioner requires. In this process, only the board of education is authorized to represent the school district (CGS 10-153f (b)).


Under the TNA, if a board of education and a union reach an impasse in contract negotiations over one or more issues, they must submit the unresolved issues to arbitration. The TNA designates the local or regional board of education as one party to the arbitration proceeding and the union as the other. These two are required to submit “their respective positions on each individual issue in dispute between them in the form of a last best offer.” The law requires the arbitrators to resolve the impasse by accepting one or the other of the two last best offers on each issue in dispute (CGS 10-153f(c)(4)).

The law also specifies a role for the school district's fiscal authority in the arbitration process by requiring:

1. arbitrators to send written notice, by registered mail, return receipt requested, of the date, time, and place of the arbitration hearing held in the school district to the fiscal authority at least five days before the hearing; and

2. a representative designated by the fiscal authority to be heard at the hearing as part of the board of education's presentation regarding the school district's fiscal capacity.

The fiscal authority may waive the opportunity to be heard. The fiscal authority representative's failure to appear at the hearing constitutes such a waiver (CGS 10-153f(c)(2)).

The TNA requires only the board of education and the union to submit last best offers to the arbitrators. In addition, the law makes the board of education responsible for presenting and arguing the school district's position on issues in dispute at the arbitration hearings. Although the law allows the district's fiscal authority to be heard, it expressly states that the authority's information is “part of the presentation and participation of the board of education.”

The arbitrators' award is binding on the school district unless it is rejected by its legislative body by a two-thirds vote within 25 days after it is issued. In such a case, the law requires the union and allows the board of education to prepare responses to the rejection. The impasse must then be submitted for review to a new arbitrator panel. The review panel's decision is final and binding (CGS 10-153f(c)(7)).