On appeal from the Supreme Court.
For the respondents-appellees, Jerome C. Eisenberg.
For the prosecutor-appellant, Henry M. Hartmann.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
WOLFSKEIL, J. The Board of Education of Trenton appeals in this case from a judgment of the Supreme Court which affirmed a decision of the State Board of Education establishing the contractual rights of the respondents to their
salaries as teachers for the school year 1939-1940, including the increment for which provision had been made in the salary schedule. The differences between the teachers and the Board hinged upon the endeavors of the Board to lower the salaries to meet what it regarded as an economic emergency. They embraced other litigation beside the one now under review. A summary of the salient facts as they developed is accordingly pertinent.
The Trenton Board of Education, under stress of fiscal conditions, ordered a fifteen per cent. salary reduction for the school year 1937-1938. This was in correspondence with reductions of salaries in other branches of the local government. Upon appeal by the teachers to the Commissioner of Education the resolution directing the decrease was declared invalid. That ruling was affirmed by the State Board of Education. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court. Prior to the decision of the Supreme Court on the subject of the reduction resolution, the Board of Education offered a plan for disposition of the controversy. It proposed that if the teachers would abandon the litigation and consent to the fifteen per cent. reduction for the school year 1937-1938, the Board would retain the teachers' salary schedule, then inoperative but not repealed, and would grant the following: (a) a two-thirds restoration of the fifteen per cent. reduction for the school year 1938-1939, plus one salary increment as provided in the schedule, to all teachers who had not reached the maximum salaries provided by the schedule; (b) the full contractual salaries to all teachers who had reached their maximum salaries for the school year 1938-1939.
Approximately ninety-three per cent. of the teachers signed the form which had been sent to them, signifying their acceptance and their willingness to release the claims which they might have against the Board. Seventeen teachers refused the compromise arrangement. They were paid the respective amounts by which their salaries had been reduced for the year 1937-1938. The teachers who acceded to the Board's proposal did not receive any part of the amount by which their salaries had been reduced for that same school year. Therefore, up to the opening of the schools for the
year 1938-1939 the continuance of the litigation resulted in the objecting teachers receiving in that regard more than those who acquiesced. Conceiving it appropriate that some attempt should be made towards adjustment, so that the teachers who accepted the settlement should not be in a financially disadvantageous position as compared to those teachers who rejected the settlement, The Trenton Board of Education, on September 14th, 1939, adopted another resolution, the purpose of which as stated by the Board was intended to bring about some equalization. This resolution read as follows:
" Whereas, over ninety per cent. of the teachers and other employees of the Board of Education elected to accept, for the year 1938-1939 10% restoration of their salaries plus one year's increment, and waived all right to any claim for back salary for the year 1937-1938, as well as 5% for the year 1938-1939, as a result of which the taxpayers of the City of Trenton saved over $250,000;
" Whereas, a certain number of teachers and other employees refused so to do, and received a full restoration for the year 1938-1939, without waiver of any ...