Patrick Wright announces the launch of the case Jurrians v. Kent ISD.
entities break the law, they often succeed due to a lack of outside scrutiny or
legal accountability. A recent example occurred in Kent County, where 10 public
school districts and the teachers unions agreed to contracts that included
illegal language — language that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Mackinac Center Legal Foundation exists to highlight and fight such
illegitimate government actions. On behalf of five Kent County taxpayers, the
MCLF in December 2010 sued the districts and unions over a “no privatization”
clause in school collective bargaining agreements. While the lawsuit was
dismissed on technical grounds, it did highlight the illegal action to the
public and demonstrated the need for state legislators to put an effective
means of enforcement into the law.
The relevant law,
passed in 1994, prohibits school districts and school employee unions from
bargaining over “whether or not to contract with a third party for 1 or more
noninstructional support services.” This restriction was intended to prevent
school boards from bargaining away their ability to save taxpayers money
through the privatization of transportation, custodial, food and other
Yet the contracts
between Kent County Education Association affiliates and the school districts
stipulated “All districts agree not to privatize any KCEA/MEA unionized
services for the life of this agreement.” Mackinac Center Fiscal Policy Analyst
James Hohman estimated that forgoing privatization savings could cost the
districts as much as $6.9 million annually. This figure and the facts of the
case garnered widespread media coverage.
The case went to the
Kent County Circuit Court on Feb. 18. MCLF Director Patrick Wright argued
the case against a team of school district and union lawyers. After
two-and-a-half hours of argument, Judge James R. Redford said the arguments
were compelling enough to warrant taking the case under advisement before
issuing a decision. In the end, he ruled that the Legislature did not provide a
mechanism for taxpayers to challenge a violation of this type.
“Then what we have is a
law that can only be enforced by the parties that decide to break it,” said
Wright, following the decision. “Legislators need to revisit the law and insert
a mechanism for holding violators accountable.”
While the obvious goal
of litigation is to win the case, it can also be a powerful means of drawing
attention to unjust action. Public outrage can encourage other branches of
government to correct the problem, as happened with the day care union suit
(see back page).
Details of the case can be
found at www.mackinac.org/14187.