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Bassett v. Board of Education of Borough of Oakland

Decided: February 24, 1988.


On appeal from the State Board of Education.

Pressler, Bilder and Gibson. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.


This appeal involves a question arising under the school laws. N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5 prohibits the reduction in compensation of tenured teachers except for inefficiency, incapacity or unbecoming conduct. Petitioner Linda Bassett was a full-time tenured teacher whose position was eliminated by reason of a reduction in force but who was offered and accepted reassignment to a part-time position in the same instructional area. The issue before us is whether N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5 requires that she be compensated proportionally to the full-time salary to which she would have been entitled but for the reduction in force or whether she may be paid at the substantially lesser hourly rate provided for in the collective negotiation agreement for hourly-rate teachers.

Petitioner was first employed as a full-time reading teacher by the Oakland Board of Education (Oakland) in September 1974. She taught continuously until March 1980 when she commenced an approximately three-and-a-half year approved maternity leave of absence. By the time she started her leave, she had achieved tenure and obtained State Board certification as an art teacher, a reading teacher, a reading specialist, and a supervisor. Her salary for the 1979-1980 school year was commensurate with step 8 1/2 of the teachers salary guide negotiated as part of the collective negotiation agreement. Prior to petitioner's anticipated return to her employment in September 1983, her full-time reading-teacher position was eliminated because of a reduction in force. She was accordingly offered and accepted reassignment as a "part-time Supplemental and Compensatory

Education Teacher,"*fn1 to teach reading for specifically designated school periods each day. Although her initial assignment required her to teach only two fifty-minute periods daily, she was, almost immediately after the start of the 1983 school year, assigned to teach three such periods each day. That assignment continued with little change until February 17, 1984, when she was assigned to teach four periods daily. The regular school day has six periods.

The parties agree that had petitioner returned to full-time employment in September 1983 she would have been paid at step 9 1/2 of the salary guide, receiving an annual compensation of $24,699. The salary which she was actually paid was the hourly rate of $10.80 in accordance with the collective negotiation agreement then in force which prescribed an hourly rate for "hourly rate teachers." Petitioner objected, claiming that unless her part-time position were compensated proportionally to the full-time position, she would suffer a salary reduction in violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5. Oakland disagreed, and petitioner accordingly filed a verified petition seeking relief with the Commissioner of Education.

The matter proceeded as a contested case heard by an administrative law judge. Both he, the Commissioner, and ultimately the State Board of Education concluded that payment of the hourly rate contravened petitioner's statutory protection as a tenured teacher against salary reduction. Oakland appeals from that determination. Petitioner cross-appeals from the State Board's directive respecting the manner of calculating her proportional salary and from the denial of both pre- and post-judgment interest. We affirm the State Board on the ruling appealed from by Oakland. With respect to the cross-appeal, we affirm the State Board's denial of prejudgment interest but reverse the denial of post-judgment interest and its directive

respecting the calculation of petitioner's proportional entitlement.

We address first Oakland's contention that the State Board erred in requiring petitioner to be paid for her part-time teaching at the rate prescribed for full-time teachers at step 9 1/2. We note first that the collective negotiation contract provides for three categories of teachers. Paragraph 4 of Article III prescribes an hourly rate for teachers who are therein designated as "hourly rate teachers" and sets a slightly higher rate for those teaching for four or more years than for those in their first three years. Paragraph 5 of Article III prescribes the rate for "part-time teachers," providing that

Part-time teachers who are compensated based on the attached salary guides * * * shall be compensated at the rate of 1/6 per teaching period per day and shall be paid on a pro-rata basis for all additional required time.

The salary guides referred to are those applicable to full-time teachers, the third category. We further note that the contract does not define either the category of hourly-rate teachers or the category of part-time teachers or the distinction between them. The only difference on the ...

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