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Wright v. Board of Education

Decided: May 7, 1985.

CLAUDE WRIGHT, JR., AND EAST ORANGE PERSONNEL ASSOCIATION, RESPONDENTS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF EAST ORANGE, ESSEX COUNTY, APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 194 N.J. Super. at 181 (1984).

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

Clifford

[99 NJ Page 115] We granted certification, 97 N.J. 579 (1984), to review the Appellate Division's determination that N.J.S.A. 18A:17-3 does

not foreclose collective negotiations between a school board and the public employee representative on the subject of tenure for public school custodians. We hold that the provision in the specific agreement at issue that grants tenure to custodians after three years of employment is not barred by the statute and is within the scope of collective negotiations. Hence, we affirm.

I

On October 5, 1977 the East Orange Board of Education (Board) hired petitioner, Claude Wright, Jr., as a public school custodian. Petitioner's employment was governed by a series of successive contracts for fixed periods not in excess of twelve months. On or about May 20, 1981, the Board gave Wright notice that his employment would not be renewed for the 1981-82 school year.

During the period of his employment Wright was a member of the East Orange Personnel Association (Association), which had entered into a negotiated agreement*fn1 with the Board. Article XIII of the agreement provided:

Tenure: All members of the bargaining unit shall receive tenure after three years of employment.

It is undisputed that petitioner had been employed for more than three years when the Board terminated his employment. Wright therefore claimed a right to tenure by virtue of the unambiguous provision in the agreement. In denying tenure the Board relied on N.J.S.A. 18A:17-3, which reads as follows:

Every public school janitor of a school district shall, unless he is appointed for a fixed term, hold his office, position or employment under tenure during good behavior and efficiency and shall not be dismissed or suspended or reduced in compensation, except as the result of the reduction of the number of janitors in the district made in accordance with the provisions of this title or except for

neglect, misbehavior or other offense and only in the manner prescribed by subarticle B of article 2 of chapter 6 of this title.

Wright petitioned the Commissioner of Education, seeking reinstatement. In its answer to the petition the Board pointed to Wright's appointment for a fixed term as the basis for denying him tenure. The parties agreed on a joint stipulation of facts, and the controversy was submitted to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). As there were no essential facts in dispute, petitioner moved for summary judgment. The ALJ concluded that pursuant to Article XIII of the labor agreement Wright was automatically ...


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