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Kopera v. Board of Education of Town of West Orange

Decided: March 14, 1960.

ANN KOPERA, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OF WEST ORANGE, ESSEX COUNTY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS



Price, Gaulkin and Foley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, J.A.D.

Gaulkin

Appellant, a tenure teacher of sewing, was denied an increment and a raise by the Board of Education of the Town of West Orange (West Orange) for the school year 1956-57 because the principal and the head of the Home Economics Department of her school had given her an "unsatisfactory" rating. The denial was affirmed by the State Commissioner of Education who, in turn, was affirmed by the State Board of Education. Hence this appeal. We directed, after the first oral argument in this appeal, that the State Board of Education be joined as a respondent.

West Orange admits that its 1956-57 salary schedule provided for a $200 increment and a $600 raise for teachers in appellant's category, but says that they were to be given only under the following regulations, which were a part of the salary schedule:

"All increases on all guides will be based on meritorious service. Favorable reports by the superintendent and those charged with supervisory responsibility, and approval by the Board of Education are a prerequisite to the granting of all increases in salary.

3. Progress on the guides shall be automatic until the maximum is reached unless the services rendered are evaluated as unsatisfactory under the rules and regulations of the Board of Education.

4. If employees are rated unsatisfactory during the school year, progress on the guide shall be withheld for the following year. When the employee is again rated satisfactory, such employee will be

returned to that point on the guide corresponding to the years of service rendered in West Orange."

Appellant began to teach in West Orange in 1949. She had received a satisfactory rating for every year prior to 1956-57, and in the year 1955-56 had reached the $4,625 level. Because of the unsatisfactory rating she was paid the same sum for 1956-57. It is to be noted that $4,625 is more than the minimum fixed by R.S. 18:13-2 for teachers with appellant's training and experience. It may also be observed that for 1957-58 appellant was given a satisfactory rating, and in that year received the $600 raise and a $200 increment.

Appellant does not deny that in 1956-57, and for years before, West Orange demanded a satisfactory rating as a prerequisite for raise or increment. The record shows that for the year in question appellant was rated by the principal with the same techniques and upon the same forms (prescribed by West Orange) as he rated all other teachers, and that all teachers were rated annually. It was established that when a principal rated a teacher satisfactory no further evaluation was made, but when the rating was unsatisfactory the head of that teacher's department made an additional check. That was the reason the head of the Home Economics Department made the evaluation in the case at bar.

Appellant does not contend that the principal or the head of the Home Economics Department had any animosity or personal bias against her -- on the contrary, appellant described the principal as friendly, patient and helpful. Nor does appellant appear to challenge, in any substantial measure, the facts upon which the evaluators based their conclusions that her performance was unsatisfactory. Appellant's chief argument is that those facts were not serious enough, even in the aggregate, to warrant the unsatisfactory rating, with its serious consequences.

Appellant first protested her rating to West Orange. She was advised by letter that "after a great ...


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