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In the Matter of the Tenure

April 13, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE TENURE HEARING OF CAROL ZIZNEWSKI, SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE TOWNSHIP OF EDISON, MIDDLESEX COUNTY.


On appeal from the State Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 153-5/08.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 23, 2012

Before Judges Sabatino, Ashrafi and Fasciale.

Carol Ziznewski appeals from the August 3, 2010 decision of the Acting Commissioner of Education removing her from a tenured position as a reading specialist employed by the Edison Township Board of Education. We affirm.

Appellant began working for the Edison Township School District in 1973 as an elementary school teacher. In 1990, she became certified as a reading specialist. She worked in that capacity at elementary schools in Edison from 1990 until the Board of Education brought tenure charges against her in 2008.

Pursuant to statute, a tenured teacher may not be dismissed "except for inefficiency, incapacity, unbecoming conduct, or other just cause." N.J.S.A. 18A:6-10. The school district bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the credible evidence its charges seeking removal of a tenured employee. Atkinson v. Parsekian, 37 N.J. 143, 149 (1962).

In this case, the charges generally alleged that appellant: violated her professional responsibilities as a tenured teacher as follows: (1) by willfully failing to provide services to her students; (2) by engaging in improper conduct toward other teaching staff members and supervisors; and (3) by engaging in insubordination, which actions constitute unbecoming conduct and other just cause for termination of her employment . . . .

The Department of Education referred the charges to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing.

After a period of discovery for the parties to gather and prepare evidence, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) began the hearing in September 2008. The hearing continued on forty-three dates over the next fifteen months, through December 2009. Twenty-two witnesses testified, including appellant. The ALJ also reviewed more than 190 documentary exhibits. At the conclusion of testimony, the parties were granted several weeks to prepare and present written arguments. On May 5, 2010, the ALJ issued a 220-page decision reciting at length the testimony and evidence presented and concluding that the school district had proven charges of insubordination and conduct unbecoming a teacher. The ALJ recommended that appellant be dismissed from her tenured position.

The Acting Commissioner of Education reviewed the record and the ALJ's decision. On August 3, 2010, he issued a written final decision adopting the recommendation of the ALJ and ordering that appellant be removed from her position.

On appeal in this court, appellant argues that: (1) the ALJ was biased against her, (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the charges, (3) the ALJ abused his discretion in denying her motion to extend discovery for the purpose of gathering additional documentary exhibits, (4) the ALJ abused his discretion in denying her motion to discharge her attorney after conclusion of the hearing but before the ALJ's decision was issued, (5) the tenure charges were legally flawed because appellant is a reading specialist and not a teacher, and (6) revocation of tenure was too severe a penalty and, instead, progressive discipline should have been imposed.

We have considered the lengthy record of testimony and other evidence together with appellant's and the school district's arguments. The degree of scrutiny given to these tenure charges and the quantity of evidence may be commensurate with appellant's length of service as a public school teacher, but we find no argument on appeal worthy of similarly lengthy discussion in a ...


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