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The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that teachers' unions and public-school districts cannot under state law enter into a collective-bargaining agreement that would require nonunion teachers to pay an agency fee in lieu of dues.

The Feb. 5 ruling "basically establishes a right-to-work law for Vermont teachers," said Martin Kaufmann, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund.

The group filed suit in 1985 on behalf of teachers in Burlington who opposed a contract provision requiring them to pay agency-shop fees even though they were not union members.

Under terms of the contract, the Burlington board of education automaticallay deducted roughly $250 a year--85 percent of union members' annual dues--from their salaries, Mr. Kaufmann said. This money was then paid to the union.

The nonunion teachers argued that collection of agency fees was prohibited by the state's 1969 Labor Relations for Teachers Act, which states that "teachers shall have the right to or not to join, assist, or participate in any teachers' organization of their choosing."

Lawyers for the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association, however, argued that later legislation--the Municipal Labor Relations Act, which allows a municipal employer to enter into an agreement requiring that an agency fee be paid to the certified bargaining agent--superseded the earlier measure.

The court disagreed. It noted in its ruling that a provision in the later law specifically states that nothing in it "shall be taken to alter or repeal the provisions of [the 1969 Act.]"

The Texas Board of Education has tentatively approved new regulations aimed at making school districts more accountable for the $350 million in state compensatory-education aid they receive each year.

The rules, approved at the board's January meeting, would require districts to develop detailed eligibility guidelines for their remedial programs, draft descriptions of the services provided, and coordinate the use of funds from state, federal, and other sources.

"I feel this approach can hold local districts accountable and, at the same time, maximize their flexibility," said William Kirby, the state commissioner of education.

Since 1975, when the state compensatory-education program began, districts have been granted broad latitude in using the funds, state officials said. The money is allocated to districts with concentrations of low-income students.

The state's 1984 education-reform law included a six-fold increase in compensatory aid, leading some legislative leaders to call for stricter program standards.

Under the new rules, department officials would examine districts' compensatory efforts as part of the state's accreditation process. Districts would be required to review student progress periodically, and minimum achievement goals would be set by the commissioner.

The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that school districts in the state must turn over the personnel files of public-school teachers to taxpayers wishing to inspect them.

Under the state's open-records law, all "public and government records" are open to inspection by taxpayers unless specifically exempted by the legislature.

Therefore, the high court ruled Feb. 2, teachers' personnel files are open for inspection because the legislature has passed no measure closing them. The issue was raised last spring when a parent in the Hebron school district asked to see the personnel file of a high-school business teacher.

Lawyers for the teacher and the district "raised some strong public-policy arguments for the exception of teacher personnel records from the open-records law," the court stated in its ruling, but "such policy considerations are for the legislature."

Vol. 07, Issue 21

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