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Offhouse v. State Board of Education

Decided: April 10, 1944.

CHARLES D. OFFHOUSE ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION AND BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF PATERSON, DEFENDANTS



On petition for a writ of certiorari.

For the petitioners, Eisenberg & Spicer.

For the defendant Board of Education of the City of Paterson, Harold D. Green (Saul R. Alexander, of counsel).

Before Justices Parker, Heher and Perskie.

Heher

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HEHER, J. Petitioners, 314 in number, are either teachers, principals or supervisors in the public school system of the City of Paterson who are under the tenure prescribed by R.S. 18:13-16 and 18:13-17. On March 5th, 1941, they filed a joint petition of appeal with the State Commissioner of Education alleging that the district board of education had refused to conform to a salary schedule prescribed by a rule of the board adopted on July 14th, 1927, in the exercise of the authority conferred by R.S. 18:13-5. The rule provided for the payment of fixed annual salary increments until the stated maximum salary had been reached. The Commissioner dismissed the petition. The State Board of Education affirmed the judgment. Mr. Justice Colie denied certiorari; and the application is renewed here.

The decisive question is whether this annually progressive salary schedule of 1927 remained in force at the time the jurisdiction of the State Commissioner was thus invoked. The schedule was observed until May 12th, 1932, when the local board, by resolution, ordered a 5% reduction of the salaries of all of its employees. And thereafter, during the school years 1933-34, 1934-35, 1935-36 and 1936-37, there were salary reductions ranging from 6% to 30%, pursuant to the statutes enacted to alleviate the financial stress consequent

upon the trade depression. Pamph. L. 1933, ch. 12, p. 24, ch. 449, p. 1247; Pamph. L. 1935, ch. 6, p. 16; Pamph. L. 1936, ch. 7, p. 17, ch. 27, p. 42. The reductions continued until October 14th, 1937, when the local board resolved that "all resolutions heretofore adopted and approved" by it, providing for "a reduction in the basic salary of the officers and employees of the Board * * * be rescinded as of October 1st, 1937;" and that "on and after October 1st, 1937, all officers and employees be paid the base salary in accordance with the terms of their employment, providing the aforesaid officers and employees waive all claims, demands, damages or liabilities, which they have had or now have for or on account of any and all reductions made or effected prior" thereto.

The Commissioner ruled that the "salary schedule became inoperative;" and the State Board concluded that other regulations limited "the right to increases in salary to those recommended by the superintendent [of schools] and the committee on education;" that "satisfactory service" is not sufficient in itself; that "the rules and regulations of a non-continuous body, such as a board of education, * * * do not bind successor boards unless they are expressly adopted or tacitly by acting thereunder;" and that the evidence conclusively demonstrates that "the several boards of education since July 1st, 1933, have not observed the rule relating to salary increases -- in fact, by their disregard of such rule it may be said it was abrogated by 'negative action.'"

The contention made by petitioners is that the increments prescribed by the schedule of 1927 were conditioned solely on "satisfactory service," and hence they became a part of the individual teacher's salary so that non-payment of the increases accruing thereunder constituted a reduction in salary in contravention of section 18:13-17, supra. No claim is advanced for the reductions made during the years 1933 to 1937; but it is maintained that since July 1st, 1937, the petitioners have been, and hereafter will be, entitled to compensation on the basis of accrued increments under the regulation of 1927, in accordance with the number of their respective years of service, as if legislation authorizing salary

reductions during the years 1933 to 1937 had not been passed. We ...


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