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Imposing a Calendar

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, June 29, 2016

Although summer is upon us, some districts may still be negotiating new contracts with their bargaining units. As negotiations carry on toward the fall, the issue of what to do regarding the school calendar becomes a question. Often times, a “preliminary” calendar has been agreed upon by the parties, however the union may not agree to officially ratify the calendar until all other aspects of the collective bargaining agreement (i.e., compensation) have been wrapped up. This is common, and well within their rights.

Nonetheless, the district has an obligation to students, parents and staff to provide something, schedule-wise, that can be relied upon as the school year gets underway. Bearing in mind this obligation, districts do have the right to “impose” a calendar in the event that a formal calendar agreement hasn’t been reached.

A district’s right to unilaterally implement a calendar does not come from state law, but rather precedent set forth by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. As far back as 1976, and even earlier, MERC has recognized the necessity of a published school calendar, as well as a district’s right to simply impose a calendar in the event of a negotiation impasse on the issue. See Fowlerville Board of Education, 1977 MERC Lab Op 392, “while the adoption of the calendar. . . does appear to be a unilateral act, all of the circumstances must be considered. The parties had been attempting since June to reach a calendar through the committee method. The School Board was obligated to do something as the traditional opening day of school. . .was close at hand.” Over the years, MERC has continued to clarify this premise, and the specific language they rely upon in each case is crucial with respect to understanding this right and its boundaries.

Subsequent MERC decisions have confirmed that there is justification for imposing a calendar when the first day of school is approaching, see the Fowlerville case above, as well as Center Line Public Schools, 1976 MERC Lab Op729. Specifically, in the Center Line matter the affirmed ALJ decision notes, “In view of this state of events and the approaching of the. . .opening day of school. . .the parties may be regarded as being at impasse and the school board was justified in acting in the greater interest of all concerned by setting a tentative beginning of the education of the children of the district.”

Additionally, in Woodhaven School District, 1982 MERC Lab O9 1545, it was noted “we agree with the (ALJ) that (the school district) here had the right. . .to set an opening day for the new fall term and to adopt a full year’s calendar subject to further bargaining with the union. We have repeatedly held that, if sufficient bargaining has taken place, the parties will be deemed to be at impasse in respect to the calendar issue as the traditional date for the opening of school approaches.”

Finally, in Ida Public Schools, 1996 MERC Lab Op 211, the following was held:

With respect to the calendar, at the beginning of the school year the Employer initially adopted a portion of the calendar in accordance with the Union’s proposal. The Employer subsequently implemented its last offer on the calendar for the duration of the school year at the end of October, while continuing to bargain with the Union. Again, I find no unfair labor practice by this action. The Employer had bargained for several months and had not reached agreement with the Union with respect to the entire Year’s calendar. Clearly, the further the school year progressed, the more it became a business necessity to establish a schedule for the benefit of the entire educational community, including teachers, administrators, parents, and students. As long as the Employer continued to bargain, which it did as evidenced by the tentative agreement reached in February, I find no violation of PERA by its action.

The takeaways from these cases are generally as follows:

  • Imposing a calendar can occur once good faith bargaining has reached an impasse with respect to the calendar.
  • Imposing a calendar is more likely to survive any union challenge if it happens within three to six weeks of the traditional start of school.
  • Negotiations regarding the calendar, as well as any other collective bargaining agreement provisions, must remain ongoing until resolved.
  • There is no requirement that a calendar be implemented on a month-by-month basis, but doing so will demonstrate a commitment to the negotiation process.
  • In situations where a calendar has been “unofficially” agreed upon, but has not been formally adopted due to ongoing negotiations involving other aspects of the CBA, the district would be wise to impose the unofficially agreed-upon calendar.
  • Simply “rolling over” the prior year’s calendar, with only minimal and necessary changes, will reduce the likelihood of a successful challenge.
  • Imposing a calendar that complies with state law, i.e., increasing instructional days from 175 to 180 and complying with ISD dates regarding winter/spring break, will generally be upheld as justifiable changes. Recall that the amount of pupil time required to receive full state aid is a prohibited subject of bargaining and therefore cannot be negotiated.

Feel free to contact the MASB Legal/Labor Team if you have any questions at labor@masb.org or 517.327.5900.

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