The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has lodged a complaint against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for canceling teacher professional days a week before the 2008-09 school year began.

The complaint, issued September 18th, is an unfair labor practices charge stemming from the school district’s decision to eliminate what are known as teachers’ “buy-back days.” These scheduled days typically occur before each new school year, when educators collaborate with their colleagues and administrators on their plans for the new year. They are scheduled prior to the beginning of the academic year to avoid taking teachers out of classrooms and away from students during critical instructional time.

The Public Employment Relations Board is a quasi-judicial administrative agency charged with administering the collective bargaining statutes covering employees of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities.

United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the district’s largest teachers union, filed a grievance with the state board in July, alleging that L.A. Unified had broken state law on collective bargaining obligations.

“The intention of these professional buy-back days was that teachers could do professional development outside of the instructional year,” explained Jes™s Qui“ones, a labor attorney representing the teachers union, in a July interview.

The complaint alleges a violation of three separate sections of the Educational Employment Relations Act.

Although buy-back days were not mandatory, approximately 70 percent of United Teachers of Los Angeles members participated in the optional program.

Roger Smith, a labor relations specialist with the Public Employment Relations Board, confirmed that the board had issued the complaint against the school district.

“We will now begin the process of holding a settlement conference with both parties to determine if a fair and reasonable resolution can be reached,” Smith said.

Union representatives blasted the district for what they feel is a continuation of policies that are harmful to its teachers and certificated personnel.

“Once again, a legal body has ruled against LAUSD and the heavy-handed way in which they trample on the rights of teachers and health and human services professionals,” said A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union. “This proves, yet once more, that LAUSD would rather impose its will instead of work collaboratively with teachers to solve problems and resolve issues in a fair and equitable manner.”

Kate Collins, associate general counsel for the school district, said that the action by the state board was not unexpected.

“We strongly disagree with the charge, but we’re not surprised (by the unfair labor practice charge),” Collins told The Argonaut. “This starts a process that allows us to answer UTLA’s charge.”

The fact that the state board filed the complaint against L.A. Unified does not automatically imply that the district broke any labor laws, Collins said.

“The issuance of the complaint by [the Public Employment Relations Board] does not necessarily give any merit to [UTLA’s] complaint,” the school district counsel noted.

Duffy feels that this grievance is more egregious than past labor charges filed against the school district.

“In this case, the district has denied us the right to negotiate on behalf of its members,” he said. “This is the product of having a superintendent who has no idea of what he’s doing.”

Gail Hughes, an L.A. Unified assistant superintendent, informed Duffy on June 18th that the buy-back days were no longer an option.

“The district does not, at this time, agree with your opinion that elimination of the voluntary buy-back days is negotiable,” Hughes wrote in a letter to Duffy.

Qui“ones said the district cannot take unilateral action regarding the teacher development days.

“The law states that before these kinds of changes can be made, you are required to bargain with the other party before you make a decision,” Qui“ones countered.

Pete Accardi, a Westchester High School mathematics teacher, did not seem surprised to learn that an unfair labor practice charge had been filed against his employer.

“It’s seems like it’s one thing after another,” said Accardi, who is the high school’ s UTLA representative.

Collins said that the settlement conference was not a venue that the school district would find intimidating.

The Public Employment Relations Board “handles these procedures very well,” she said. “We are very comfortable with how they are used.”

The loss of the paid professional development days amounts to a 1.5-percent pay cut for teachers.

“I definitely see it that way,” said Paul Duke, a Venice homeowner who teaches at University High School in West Los Angeles.

The teachers union is also seeking an order requiring the immediate reinstatement of the buy-back days.

Duffy said that this recent action against the district, along with the stalemate between the union and district representatives on a pay raise for teachers, has caused him to consider going out on strike next year.

“Nothing is off the table,” Duffy confirmed.

The union leader pointed to the fact that the school district has spent nearly $1 billion on outside contractors and assessments that are not mandated by the district.

That also troubled Accardi.

“The big thing for me is that we didn’t get a raise last year, but the district was allotted the cost of living increases, plus the money that they’re spending on outside contractors,” said the Westchester High teacher.

School superintendent David L. Brewer sent out a letter that acknowledged the impasse in negotiations with the teachers and said that a mediator had been assigned.

“The Los Angeles Unified School District is working hard to reach an agreement with UTLA over wage, benefits and other issues, and the appointment of a mediator to help with contract negations is a positive step,” Brewer wrote.

Duffy believes that mediation and the unfair labor practice complaint could have been avoided.

“Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of labor law would have known that this was going to happen,” he said.

District officials are scheduled to meet with representatives of the teachers union in October regarding the labor practice complaint.