A Boone County judge said Wednesday she was leaning toward the Columbia teachers union in its lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools. The district had its motion to dismiss the case denied during a morning hearing.

The hearing before 13th Circuit Judge Jodie Asel marked the first courtroom action in the lawsuit. It states the school district bargained in bad faith and violated constitutional rights of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association when it demanded the union gain certification credentials required under a new state law.

“What I’m seeing before me here is parties who have worked together extensively to get to where they are today, but you’re in a Catch-22 because of things that happened that are beyond the control of either side,” Asel said.

The Catch-22 emerged in March when a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge barred state agencies from carrying out House Bill 1413, which requires all exclusive bargaining units to be certified by the State Board of Mediation — a requirement CMNEA does not currently meet.

If the union does not fulfill the requirement by June 30, it will lose the right to collectively bargain as the recognized representative of Columbia public school teachers. To stop that from happening, the union requested a preliminary injunction to bar the district from enforcing parts of HB 1413 until the conclusion of the lawsuit.

Although she did not grant the preliminary injunction, Asel gave the parties seven days to work out a new proposal.

“I’m leaning to the side of the plaintiffs’ continued status quo until such time as they are able to get a certification in place as required by HB 1413 if it is found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court,” Asel said.

During the hearing, attorneys for the district argued the union had ample time to comply with the law between its enactment last June and the March court decision barring its enforcement.

Asel, however, said she didn’t fault CMNEA officials for waiting on the St. Louis County lawsuit, which could result in HB 1413 being deemed unconstitutional.

“I think we have to come up with a way to show that the parties can continue to negotiate and that if the Supreme Court opposes the unconstitutionality statute, no harm is done, because you’re where you would have been anyways,” the judge said. “If it is not found to be unconstitutional, it would require the plaintiffs to conduct their certification process within a certain period of time.”

Asel said the case can’t leave the union “high and dry without representation when the State Board of Mediation has taken the position that the St. Louis County injunction requires them to completely shut down the process.”

Outside the courtroom, union members, including CMNEA President Kathy Steinhoff, hugged one another in celebration after Asel decided not to dismiss the case.

DeeAnn Aull, executive director of the Missouri National Education Association, said she is hopeful that attorneys from both sides can work out a compromise.

“We’re just pleased that the teachers’ voice was heard through this case and that they will have an opportunity to come back to the table and continue to bargain on behalf of themselves and for the good of the students,” Aull said.

In a written statement, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark noted the judge’s acknowledgment that HB 1413 was the only issue putting the two parties at odds.

“We believe this clearly indicates that the school district bargained in good faith during the negotiation process and worked very hard to reach agreements with CMNEA,” Baumstark said in the statement. “Columbia Public Schools continues to be committed to working with and listening to teachers when it comes to salaries, working conditions and other concerns.”

A new order is expected to be filed by next Wednesday.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

  • Summer 2019 reporter and assistant city editor. Reach me by email at tncoulter@mail.missouri.edu or on Twitter at @tomcoulter_

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