In a decision which is likely to change the dynamics of interest arbitration proceedings in Connecticut, the Freedom of Information Commission has ruled that the decades long presumption that teacher interest arbitration hearings are closed to the public, is incorrect.
In the case at issue, the Waterbury Republican-American Newspaper sought entry to an interest arbitration proceeding between the Torrington Board of Education and the Torrington Education Association. The arbitration panel, chaired by Arbitrator Larry Foy, ruled in response to the objection of the Union that interest arbitration hearings are not open to the public. The newspaper filed an FOIA complaint and the Freedom of Information Commission ruled on February 25, 2011, in a case of first impression that interest arbitration panels under the Teacher Negotiations Act are a “committee” of the State Board of Education, thus subject to the requirements of the Act. Accordingly, unless appealed, teacher and administrator interest arbitration hearings will be open to the public.
It is unclear whether the same rule will apply to the arbitration of non-certified contracts under the Municipal Employees Relations Act. As of this date, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration has taken the position that this decision does not apply to MERA cases because of C.G.S. Section 31-100 which exempts certain of its hearings from FOIA.
Readers should be aware of this ruling and closely follow as to whether an appeal is filed, particularly if your district has any teacher or administrator negotiations which go to arbitration this year.