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In re Lawrence Teachers' Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, AFL-CIO

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

June 15, 2017

In the Matter of LAWRENCE TEACHERS' Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, AFL-CIO, Respondent,
v.
NEW YORK STATE PUBLIC RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent, and LAWRENCE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant.

          Calendar Date: May 4, 2017

          Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, Washington, DC (Bryan M. Killian, admitted pro hac vice), for appellant.

          Richard E. Casagrande, New York State United Teachers, Latham (Laura H. Delaney of counsel), for Lawrence Teachers' Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, AFL-CIO, respondent.

          David P. Quinn, New York State Public Relations Board, Albany, for New York State Public Relations Board, respondent.

          Jeffrey Mongelli, New York State School Boards Association, Inc., Latham (Jay Worona of counsel), for New York State School Boards Association, Inc., amicus curiae.

          Before: Peters, P.J., McCarthy, Egan Jr., Devine and Mulvey, JJ.

          Devine, J.

         Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court (McGrath, J.), entered February 10, 2016 in Albany County, which partially granted petitioner's application, in a proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78, to annul a determination of respondent Public Employment Relations Board dismissing petitioner's improper practice charge.

         Respondent Lawrence Union Free School District (hereinafter the District) implemented a universal prekindergarten program pursuant to Education Law § 3602-e. Program tasks were first performed by employees working in a collective bargaining unit exclusively represented by petitioner but, in 2012, the District unilaterally contracted with an outside eligible agency to staff and operate it. Petitioner filed an improper practice charge with respondent Public Employment Relations Board (hereinafter PERB) alleging a violation of the Public Employees' Fair Employment Act (see Civil Service Law art 14 [hereinafter the Taylor Law]), namely, that the District did not negotiate in good faith about outsourcing the work (see Civil Service Law §§ 204 [2]; 209-a [1] [d]).

         Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that the provisions of Education Law § 3602-e vitiated the District's duty to negotiate in good faith and dismissed the charge. PERB affirmed, prompting petitioner to commence this CPLR article 78 proceeding. Supreme Court annulled PERB's determination and remitted for further proceedings, holding that nothing in Education Law § 3602-e "defeat[ed] the District's bargaining obligations... under the Taylor Law." The District's now appeals.

         The outsourcing of work performed exclusively by represented employees is a mandatory subject of bargaining under the Taylor Law, rendering a failure to bargain an improper employer practice under Civil Service Law § 209-a (1) (d) (see Matter of Manhasset Union Free School Dist. v New York State Publ. Empl. Relations Bd., 61 A.D.3d 1231, 1232-1233 [2009]; Matter of Romaine v Cuevas, 305 A.D.2d 968, 969 [2003]). PERB concluded that the outsourcing here was not a mandatory subject of bargaining due to Education Law § 3602-e (5) (d), which authorizes a school district "to enter any contractual or other arrangements necessary to implement" a prekindergarten program plan "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law." As PERB itself recognizes, the interplay between the Taylor Law and Education Law § 3602-e presents a question of pure "statutory construction [that] is a function for the courts[, and PERB] is accorded no special deference in [its] interpretation of statutes" (Matter of Webster Cent. Sch. Dist. v Public Empl. Relations Bd. of State of N.Y., 75 N.Y.2d 619, 626 [1990]; see Matter of New York City Tr. Auth. v New York State Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 8 N.Y.3d 226, 231 [2007]). Our review of the statutory landscape nevertheless leads us to agree with PERB's interpretation.

         The main goal in statutory construction is to discern the will of the Legislature and, "[a]s the clearest indicator of legislative intent is the statutory text, the starting point in any case of interpretation must always be the language itself, giving effect to the plain meaning thereof" (Majewski v Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 583 [1998]; see Matter of Level 3 Communications, LLC v Clinton County, 144 A.D.3d 115, 117-118 [2016]). Education Law § 3602-e addresses the apportionment of state funds to school districts that create a universal prekindergarten program plan, "defined as a plan 'designed to effectively serve eligible children directly through the school district or through collaborative efforts between the school district and an eligible agency or agencies'" (Matter of Board of Educ. of Catskill Cent. Sch. Dist. [Catskill Teachers Assn.], 130 A.D.3d 1287, 1288-1289 [2015], lv denied 26 N.Y.3d 912');">26 N.Y.3d 912 [2015], quoting Education Law § 3602-e [1] [d]). A school district is free to avoid collaborative efforts in crafting a prekindergarten program plan (see Education Law § 3602-e [1] [d]; Matter of Board of Educ. of Catskill Cent. Sch. Dist. [Catskill Teachers Assn.], 130 A.D.3d at 1289), although collaboration is generally required in order for the plan to obtain approval and grant money from the Commissioner of Education (see Education Law § 3602-e [2]; [5] [e]; [9] [b]; 8 NYCRR 151-1.4 [c]; 151-1.5 [b] [7]). Regardless of the precise plan devised, however, a school district is empowered to "enter any contractual or other arrangements necessary to implement" it "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law" (Education Law § 3602-e [5] [d]).

         The power to contract conferred by Education Law § 3602-e (5) (d) does not "overcome the strong [s]tate policy favoring the bargaining of terms and conditions of employment" by itself, as "any implied intention that there not be mandatory negotiation must be plain and clear or inescapably implicit in the statute" (Matter of Webster Cent. Sch. Dist. v Public Empl. Relations Bd. of State of N.Y., 75 N.Y.2d at 627 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of City of Schenectady v New York State Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 85 N.Y.2d 480, 486 [1995]). Education Law § 3602-e (5) (d) goes further and grants the power to make necessary arrangements "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law, " which is a "verbal formulation frequently employed for legislative directives intended to preempt any other potentially conflicting statute, wherever found in the [s]tate's laws" (People v Mitchell, 15 N.Y.3d 93, 97 [2010]; see Matter of Retired Pub. Empls. Assn., Inc. v Cuomo, 123 A.D.3d 92, 95 [2014]; Matter of Niagara County v Power Auth. of State of N.Y., 82 A.D.3d 1597, 1601 [2011], lv dismissed and denied 17 N.Y.3d 838');">17 N.Y.3d 838 [2011]). The addition of that language accordingly signals the intent of the Legislature to override any statutory conflicts to the exercise of the school district's contracting power, including the Taylor Law bar to outsourcing work absent bargaining beforehand.

         There is nothing unclear in the language of Education Law § 3602-e (5) (d), but the history of the statute points to the same legislative aim. The statute originally mandated that a board of education considering the creation of a universal prekindergarten program empanel an advisory board to study the issue, and that advisory board would include stakeholder representatives such as "teachers employed by the school district as selected by the collective bargaining unit" (Education Law § 3602-e former [3] [a], as added by L 1997, ch 436, part A, § 58; see L 1998, ch 58, part C, § 34). The advisory board would then conduct a thorough, public review and consider factors such as "the most appropriate and effective manner in which to provide prekindergarten programs which most efficiently utilize the resources of the school district and the community, including eligible agencies " (Education Law ยง 3602-e former [3] [b] [vi] ...


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