On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 249 N.J. Super 222 (1991).
For reversal and reinstatement -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.
This appeal concerns the interplay between two statutes, N.J.S.A. 18A:29-4.1 (Section 4.1) and N.J.S.A. 18A:29-14 (Section 14), which address salaries for public-school teachers.
Section 4.1 allows local school boards to adopt binding salary schedules outlining compensation for teachers for periods of up to three school years. The guides place teachers at varying steps according to their education and experience. On completion of each year of successful performance, teachers progress on the guide, and their salaries increase accordingly.
Section 14 permits local school boards to withhold salary increments from teachers who have not performed satisfactorily during the previous year. The statute also explicitly states that absent affirmative action to the contrary, local boards are not required to pay back any denied increments once a teacher resumes satisfactory performance. Section 14 does not, however, address how compensation for teachers is to be computed in the years following a withholding. This appeal concerns the effect of Section 4.1 on a teacher who has had her salary
increments withheld under Section 14 but who subsequently performs satisfactorily.
Pamela Probst is a tenured teacher employed by the Board of Education of Haddonfield Borough (Board). The Board adopted a salary schedule for its teachers for the school years 1986-87 through 1988-89 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:29-4.1, which provides that
[a] board of education of any district may adopt a one, two or three year salary policy, including salary schedules for all full-time teaching staff members which shall not be less than those required by law. Such policy and schedules shall be binding upon the adopting board and upon all future boards in the same district for a period of one, two or three years from the effective date of such policy but shall not prohibit the payment of salaries higher than those required by such policy or schedules nor the subsequent adoption of policies or schedules providing for higher salaries, increments or adjustments. Every school budget adopted, certified or approved by the board, the voters of the district, the board of school estimate, the governing body of the municipality or municipalities, or the commissioner, as the case may be, shall contain such amounts as may be necessary to fully implement such policy and schedules for that budget year.
The schedule adopted by the Board provides in relevant part:
Middle Step 1986-87 1987-88 1988-89
J/K $25,000 $26,300 $27,600
K/L $25,800 $27,100 $28,400
L/M $26,600 $27,900 $29,200
The salary guide reflects two types of incremental salary increases for each year. The employment increment is the increase awarded after the successful completion of each year of employment. With the addition of a year of experience a Haddonfield teacher moves one step vertically on the salary guide and receives an $800 employment increment. In addition, the salary guide reflects an adjustment increment secured through collective bargaining to off set an estimated rise in the cost of living for each year. (Originally, "employment increment" and "adjustment increment" were defined in N.J.S.A. 18A:29-6. That statute was repealed by the Teacher Quality
Employment Act, L. 1985, c. 321, § 16, of which Section 14 is a part. However, the original definitions remain relevant as Section 14 still refers to both terms.) Each year that a Haddonfield teacher moves horizontally across the schedule, she gains an additional $1,300. Thus, a successful teacher will enjoy a salary increase of $2,100 at the start of each school year -- ...