On appeal from the final decision of the State Board of Education.
Matthews, Pressler and Petrella. The opinion of the court was delivered by Matthews, P.J.A.D.
[185 NJSuper Page 450] This is an appeal from a decision of the State Board of Education dismissing an action filed by petitioner with the Commissioner of Education. In his petition of appeal petitioner, a nontenured teacher, challenged the propriety of the action of the Board of Education of the Township of Bedminister in choosing not to reemploy him as a teacher for a third contract year. Specifically, petitioner contends that since three evaluations of him were not conducted during the 1975-76 school year, it was improper and unlawful for the board not to re-employ
him. Petitioner also asserts that the board's action of not re-employing him was arbitrary and capricious and that he should be reinstated to his former position as a teaching staff member in the district. The board had voted not to renew the teaching contract of petitioner and, upon petitioner's request, informed him that his employment would not be continued:
These criticisms were not contained in petitioner's formal evaluations. They were the reasons articulated by board members as the basis for their dissatisfaction with petitioner and were based on the personal observations of board members, knowledge acquired through having a child in petitioner's class or acquired from members of the public and parents of petitioner's pupils. Petitioner requested and received an informal appearance before the board to rebut the board's reasons for its determination. The board did not change its decision; this action ensued.
A plenary hearing was conducted before a representative of the Commissioner of Education. The hearing examiner's report ordered petitioner's reinstatement. The hearing examiner concluded that the reasons for nonre-employment provided to petitioner were "not at all related to the evaluations of his performance in the classroom." He found the true reason for petitioner's nonre-employment was petitioner's "perceived abrasiveness to the Board at public meetings."
The Commissioner adopted the remedy recommended but rejected the premise implied in the hearing examiner's report that "boards of education are bound to predicate renewal decisions affecting nontenured teaching staff members on evaluations conducted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:27-3.1 and implementing regulations." The Commissioner ordered reinstatement nevertheless because the reasons for nonrenewal furnished petitioner were not supported by the evaluations and no other reasons were given to him to explain the board's decision. The Commissioner
also commented that the unarticulated reason for the decision of the board, that is, the attitude petitioner allegedly displayed toward the board at public meetings of the board, might be constitutionally vulnerable.
The State Board reversed the Commissioner's decision and dismissed petitioner's petition of appeal. Noting that there were some favorable reports regarding petitioner before the local board when it made its decision, namely the evaluations, the State Board determined that the local board had sufficient information to support both its decision not to re-employ petitioner and its statement of reasons for doing so. The State Board emphasized the considerable discretion afforded to local boards in employing teaching staff members. The State Board concluded that the local board's action was not so arbitrary and capricious as to warrant the extraordinary remedy of overriding the managerial prerogative of a local board and requiring it to employ a teacher it does not want on its staff.
The ultimate administrative decision-maker for controversies arising under the school laws is the State Board of Education. N.J.S.A. 18A:6-27. Quinlan v. North Bergen Tp. Bd. of Ed., 73 N.J. Super. 40, 51 (App.Div.1962). Appeals may be taken to the State Board from any determination of the State Commissioner of Education. N.J.S.A. 18A:6-27, 28. In passing upon matters on appeal, the State Board is not restricted to review of issues of law. Winston v. South Plainfield Bd. of Ed., 125 N.J. Super. 131, 139-140 (App.Div.1973), aff'd 64 N.J. 582 (1974); Quinlan v. North Bergen Tp. Bd. of Ed., supra, 73 N.J. Super. at 51. It is well recognized that the State Board may make its own independent findings of fact. Id.
Petitioner suggests that the proper scope of review for the State Board to apply when reviewing a determination of the Commissioner is the standard articulated for the Commissioner of Labor and Industry in Delesky v. Tasty Baking Co., 175 N.J. Super. 513 (App.Div.1980). That standard ...