At the end of May, the Boise Independent School District (the District) and the Boise Educational Association (the BEA) signed a new Master Contract (the Master Contract). On July 1, 2014, the Master Contract went into effect. According to Article II, Section P, of the Master Contract, under the heading “Association President’s Leave”:
“The Association president shall be allowed a leave of absence for his/her term of office with salary and benefits to be paid by the Association for the time that the president is released from teaching duties. The District shall reimburse the Association the cost of salary and benefits of a first year teacher (B.A., 1.0 experience). Said leave of absence shall count towards retirement and all other purposes of the Master Contract. All rights of renewable contract status, retirement, accrued sick leave, salary schedule placement and other benefits provided herein shall be preserved and available to the Association President in the event he/she chooses to return to the District as a professional employee at the conclusion of his or her term of office. If the Association President chooses to return from his or her leave of absence, he/she shall be assigned to a position at the same school, the same teaching field, if available, as that which he/she held before becoming the Association president.”
Thus, pursuant to the Master Contract, if a teacher is elected president of the BEA, not only must the district grant that person leave to serve, but the district also must reimburse the BEA for the equivalent of a first-year teacher’s salary and benefits. Apparently, the leave of absence also counts toward the teacher’s retirement. Review of the three previous master contracts indicates that a similar provision was included in those contracts as well.
Various jurisdictions in a number of states have entered into similar contracts, and public interest litigation organizations have begun to file lawsuits challenging these union “release time” provisions. Indeed, the Goldwater Institute was one of the first to bring a successful “union release time” challenge, where an Arizona court declared that the practice of “release time” violated the “Gift Clause” of the Arizona Constitution, which prevents government entities from awarding benefits to private entities without direct, tangible benefits in return.
Idaho also has a Gift Clause. Article VIII, Section 4, of the Idaho Constitution declares that:
“No county, city, town, township, board of education, or school district, or other subdivision, shall lend, or pledge the credit or faith thereof directly or indirectly, in any manner, to, or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, for any amount or for any purpose whatever, or become responsible for any debt, contract or liability of any individual, association or corporation in or out of this state.”
Since it seems clear that the Master Contract makes the District responsible for at least some of the liability of the BEA to pay its president, it may not be too long before the District finds itself facing a legal challenge of its own.
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