On appeal from a Final Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 278-10/05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Baxter and Alvarez.
Rose Daganya appeals from a December 30, 2008 final agency decision of the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner). The Commissioner concluded that even though Daganya had sustained a work-related injury that prevented her from performing her extra-curricular duties as a field hockey coach, she was nonetheless not entitled to payment of her coaching stipend because the term "full salary," as used in N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, refers only to the compensation received for Daganya's full-time teaching position, and not to a part-time coaching salary. We affirm.
Daganya, a longtime health and physical education teacher and field hockey coach in the Township of Old Bridge school district, suffered a work-related injury to her right knee on November 30, 2004. By deferring the required surgical repair to August 2005, Daganya was able to finish the 2004-05 school year, but was unable to return to work on September 1, 2005. She remained out of work through November 1, 2005, while recuperating from the knee-replacement surgery performed on August 2, 2005.
Through a combination of workers' compensation benefits and a disability payment received from the school district pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, Daganya was reimbursed for her full teaching salary for that two-month period; however, the school district refused to compensate her for her lost income as a field hockey coach. Relying upon N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, the school district asserted that because Daganya's coaching position was neither full-time nor tenured, Daganya was not entitled to the payment of her coaching stipend for the two-month period in question.
Daganya filed a timely verified petition with the Office of Administrative Law challenging the school district's decision. On November 17, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a decision upholding the school district's determination that Daganya was not entitled to payment of her coaching stipend. In a final agency decision rendered on December 30, 2008, the ALJ's decision was affirmed by the Commissioner.
The principles governing our review are well-accepted. "Appellate courts ordinarily accord deference to final agency actions, reversing those actions if they are 'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [if the action] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" N.J. Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. N.J. Dep't of Agric., 196 N.J. 366, 384-85 (2008) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). Moreover, "[t]he interpretation of a statute by the administrative agency charged with its enforcement is entitled to great weight." Nelson v. Bd. of Educ. of Old Bridge, 148 N.J. 358, 364 (1997). "Nevertheless, an administrative agency may not, under the guise of interpretation, extend a statute to give it a greater effect than its language permits." GE Solid State, Inc. v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 132 N.J. 298, 306 (1993). While Daganya claims that the Commissioner's interpretation of the statute was overly restrictive, rather than unduly expansive, it stands to reason that if an administrative agency may not, under the guise of interpretation, broaden the impact of a statute beyond the Legislature's intent, ibid., the agency should not be permitted to contract the Legislature's intentions either.
The statute in question, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, addresses the payment of sick leave for service-connected disability in a school setting. N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1(a) provides:
Whenever any employee, entitled to sick leave*fn1 under this chapter, is absent from his post of duty as a result of a personal injury caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, his employer shall pay to such employee the full salary or wages for the period of such absence for up to one calendar year . . . .
Thus, as is evident from the language of N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, a teacher who is out of work and receiving sick leave is entitled to be reimbursed only for "salary or wages." A stipend is not a salary or a wage. Had the Legislature intended to require a school district to reimburse a teacher for services such as coaching a varsity team, or serving as an advisor to the high school yearbook, drama club, or student newspaper, the Legislature would have written the statute differently. Specifically, the Legislature would have specified that the school district would be obliged to pay such employee the full salary or wages "in addition to any income earned in connection with extra-curricular activities such as coaching, or earned while serving as an advisor to student clubs, activities or organizations." The Legislature's failure to include such language evinces an intent to exclude such forms of compensation from the salary reimbursement a disabled teacher is entitled to receive pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1.
Moreover, as we understand the record, Daganya did not hold a teaching certificate for the position, the assignment was made from year-to-year, the stipend was separate from her teaching salary, and there was no obligation on her part to accept the coaching position as part of her teaching duties. By the same token, the school district was not obliged to offer her the position of field hockey coach in any given year. Daganya does not contend that she was ...