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Rutherford Education Association v. Board of Education of Borough of Rutherford

Decided: April 11, 1985.

RUTHERFORD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, CAROL A. FROEHLICH, DAVID SKIDMORE AND JOANNE ROSS, APPELLANTS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BOROUGH OF RUTHERFORD, BERGEN COUNTY, RESPONDENT. LINDA MCGOVERN, APPELLANT, V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BOROUGH OF RIVERDALE, MORRIS COUNTY, RESPONDENT. THEA LEVINSKY, APPELLANT, V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE PASCACK VALLEY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, BERGEN COUNTY, RESPONDENT. LAURIE CURRIER, APPELLANT, V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF WEEHAWKEN, HUDSON COUNTY, RESPONDENT. FAIR LAWN EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, KAY BERGQUIST, ELEANOR JASNOW, FLORA FRANK, ANNE JOYCE SCHLEIER, REET HAYDEN, PHYLLIS STOLAR, RUTH E. ROGLER, EILEEN ZELCH, NESSIA GORMANNS, VIVIAN C. FELICE, PATRICIA S. SMOTZER, ELAINE PAVON, NANCY DIXON, KATHERINE SOLOMON, MYRA SPIRA, CLARE SALESKY, MURIEL HIRSCH, VIRGINIA E. WHITMAN, ARLENE ALBALAH, EILEEN SPIELMAN, FYRNE ZAGORIA, ELLEN LEVY, MARCIA SALKOWITZ, JANET FORER, NATALIE WEISSMAN, SYBIL B. PINE AND BARBARA RUDNICK, APPELLANTS, V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BOROUGH OF FAIR LAWN, BERGEN COUNTY, RESPONDENT. NEW MILFORD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, ANITA SCULT, LINDA MACCHIO, JANET FLIEGER, ELAINE GLINE AND DEBORAH BOGYO, RESPONDENTS, V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BOROUGH OF NEW MILFORD, APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance in part; reversal and remandment in part -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.

Garibaldi

The issue here is whether Spiewak v. Rutherford Board of Educ., 90 N.J. 63 (1982), is to be applied retroactively to Title 1, supplemental and compensatory education teachers (Title 1 teachers), who filed petitions with the Commissioner of Education prior to June 23, 1982, the date of our decision in Spiewak. In Spiewak, we held that a Title 1 teacher is eligible for tenure unless he or she comes within the explicit exceptions of N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5 or related statutes such as N.J.S.A. 18A:16-1.1. Id. at 74. We also held that "the legal rule established by these cases shall be applied prospectively to all persons not before the Court * * *." Id. at 83. Further, we decided that teachers not before the Court would not be entitled to any back pay award, and would not be entitled to be rehired if they had been terminated before the date of the decision. Id. at 83 n. 2.

Each of the teachers in this appeal was employed by a board of education as a Title 1 teacher and each filed a petition with the Commissioner of Education, prior to the date of our Spiewak decision, seeking a declaration of tenure eligibility, reinstatement, additional salary, and/or additional benefits. Accordingly, this appeal requires us to determine whether the right to tenure and the emoluments of tenure afforded to the plaintiffs in Spiewak should be similarly afforded to these teachers. Today, we hold that a Title 1 teacher still employed by a school district at the time of this Court's decision in Spiewak, who had instituted an action based on his or her right to tenure and the benefits attached thereto prior to our Spiewak decision, is entitled to the same retroactive application of tenure and the emoluments of tenure, as the plaintiffs in Spiewak, subject to the limitations later set forth in this opinion.

In this connection, it is essential to emphasize what we decided in Spiewak. In that case, we held that Title 1 teachers were "teaching staff members" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 18A:1-1, and therefore "[a]s to the teachers involved in this

litigation, they are all entitled not only to tenure but also to retroactive payment of any benefits they would have received if they had been accorded tenure properly." 90 N.J. at 83. There, as here, we were concerned with the class of teachers eligible for tenure status.

We did not decide in Spiewak, nor do we decide today, what are the emoluments of tenure. As stated in Spiewak:

We do not decide what, if any, additional benefits the teachers in these cases are entitled to, either retroactively or prospectively. This is primarily a matter of contract and the relevant collective bargaining agreements are not part of the record. Further, the parties for the most part did not brief this question and the Appellate Division did not address it. We therefore remand to the Commissioner of Education to make that determination in accord with the principles laid down in this opinion. [ Id. at 84 n. 3.]

Accordingly, as in Spiewak, we remand to the Commissioner of Education to determine when tenure accrued for each teacher in this case, what retroactive benefits each teacher is entitled to receive, and the calculations of such benefits, in accordance with the principles set forth in this opinion.*fn1

I

On appeal to the Appellate Division, Rutherford Education Association et als. v. Rutherford Board of Education, Bergen County, Linda McGovern v. Riverdale Board of Education, Thea Levinsky v. Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education, Laurie Currier v. Weehawken Township Board of Education, Hudson County, and Fair Lawn Education Association et als. v. Fair Lawn Board of Education, Bergen County, were argued and decided together.

A. Rutherford Education Association, Carol A. Froehlich, David Skidmore, and Joanne Ross v. Board of Education of the Borough of Rutherford, Bergen County

This case (Rutherford) was instituted on April 14, 1980 by the filing of a verified complaint by plaintiffs, Rutherford Education Association, Carol A. Froehlich, David Skidmore, and Joanne Ross, against the Rutherford Board of Education (Board). The three individuals were employed by the respondent, Rutherford Board of Education, as tenure-eligible Title 1 and State Compensatory Education (S.C.E.) teachers. The complaint alleged that Froehlich, Skidmore, and Ross, serving as S.C.E. and Title 1 teachers, were qualified for tenure within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5, and thus entitled to the corresponding salary and benefits of other teaching staff members. Carol Froehlich has been employed by the Board since 1977, David Skidmore since 1975. Joanne Ross' employment was terminated after the 1979-80 school year due to a lack of funding.

The State Board of Education concluded that Ross' position was abolished in good faith for economic reasons and therefore held that Ross was not entitled to tenure or reinstatement. The State Board also held that Froehlich and Skidmore were tenure eligible, but calculated sick leave benefits for them from June 23, 1982 (the date of this Court's decision in Spiewak). The Board denied all other compensatory claims, retroactive and prospective.

The Appellate Division affirmed the State Board's holding that Ross was not entitled to reinstatement but reversed the State Board's conclusion that Froehlich and Skidmore were not entitled to receive the same salary and benefits as other teachers in the school district. It held that they were entitled to receive proper salary guide placement and benefits on a par with other teaching staff members. However, the Appellate Division denied the teachers' request for retroactive relief,

holding that all relief commenced on June 23, 1982, and remanded the case to the Commissioner of Education for a determination of the amount of back salary due Froehlich and Skidmore.

B. Linda McGovern v. Board of Education of the Borough of Riverdale

This case (McGovern) was initiated on March 16, 1978 by the filing of a verified petition. Linda McGovern claimed tenured status as a teaching staff member on the basis of her service as a Title 1 supplementary teacher from September 1974 through December 1977, and as a regular classroom teacher from January 1, 1978 through June 30, 1978. Following the 1977-78 school year, McGovern's employment was terminated due to a reduction in force caused by declining enrollment. The State Board of Education held that in accordance with the Spiewak decision, McGovern's prior termination by the Board barred her claims of tenure and compensation. On appeal to the Appellate Division, McGovern sought reinstatement, and retroactive and prospective salary and benefits. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the State Board, finding it in accord with Spiewak.

C. Thea Levinsky v. Board of Education of the Pascack Valley Regional High School District

This case (Levinsky) was initiated by the filing of a verified petition on August 20, 1980. Levinsky was employed as an S.C.E. math teacher from November 8, 1976 through May 9, 1977. When this position was discontinued, she was employed as a Title 1 compensatory education math and reading teacher from September 6, 1978 through June, 1981. Her employment was terminated at the end of the 1980-81 school year due to a lack of funding. Consequently, Levinsky lacked sufficient time for the acquisition of tenure under N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5. Her petition sought recovery for back pay and benefits afforded other tenure-eligible staff members.

The State Board of Education held that since Levinsky's employment terminated before she acquired tenure and she was not employed by the Pascack Valley Board of Education at the time of our Spiewak decision, she was foreclosed from any relief. Since Levinsky conceded that she was discharged prior to acquiring tenure, the only issue was whether she was entitled to retroactive back wages. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the State Board of Education.

D. Laurie Currier v. Board of Education of the Township of Weehawken

This case (Currier) was initiated on July 24, 1981, by a verified petition. The petition alleged that the school board's action to employ her on only a part-time basis from September 9, 1981 through September 30, 1981, after she had acquired tenure under the terms of N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5, violated her tenure and seniority rights. Currier seeks recovery of the salary and benefits belonging to a full-time teacher only for September 1981.

Currier is a certified elementary school teacher and was employed by the Board as a S.C.E. teacher on a per-diem basis from December 7, 1976 to June 17, 1977. She was again employed from February 24, 1978 to June 21, 1978. She was then employed as an elementary school teacher during the 1978-79, 1979-80, and 1980-81 school years and was compensated according to the teachers' salary guide. On April 28, 1981 the Board voted not to renew Currier's employment contract for the 1981-82 school year. She was, however, reemployed as a part-time S.C.E. teacher from ...


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