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Increased Fee Refunds to Nonunion Teachers Backed

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About 700 nonunion teachers seeking to reclaim a portion of the fees they paid the California Teachers Association last year are entitled to more money than the union offered, a state arbitrator ruled last week.

The teachers, who must pay fees each year for bargaining and professional services, are entitled to apply for an annual refund of the portion of those fees that the union spends on political activities. Teachers who disagree with the refund amount offered by the union may seek arbitration.

Last week's ruling concerned the roughly 700 teachers who appealed their 1995-96 fees on the grounds that the union had miscalculated the amount it spent during the year on political efforts.

The arbitrator's binding decision was hailed by a Los Angeles-based conservative foundation as a landmark victory that will set a precedent for curbing political activism among teachers' unions. The Individual Rights Foundation, the legal arm of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, represented the teachers.

Kevin Teasley, a vice president of the center, argued that the ruling provided a precedent for next year's fee-refund arbitration and also set the groundwork for a class action against the CTA.

"This decision is really an open invitation to teachers to call us for representation in next year's battle," he said. "We want to take this battle and go national."

But the union downplayed the significance of the ruling, noting that refund adjustments occur annually at such hearings. The arbitrator disagreed with the CTA's refund calculations, union officials said, but not with the substance of its activities.

"We do this arbitration each year. We've done it each year for the past 10 years," said Beverly Tucker, the CTA's chief legal counsel. "This decision has no precedential value."

Calculating the Amount

After the arbitrator's decision was announced, the two sides offered differing interpretations of the amount the union must refund the teachers as a result.

Mr. Teasley said that the teachers will receive refunds for all of their local dues for the 1995-96 school year--about $150--and half of their roughly $300 in CTA dues, for a total refund of about $300.

The CTA had originally calculated that only a 25 percent, not a 50 percent, refund of its dues was warranted, he said.

But Ms. Tucker disagreed. She said the arbitrator's award was only 4.6 percent more than the CTA's proposed refund.

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