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January 11, 2011

All necessary parties -- i.e. parties that could be affected by the decision -- must be named in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education

All necessary parties -- i.e. parties that could be affected by the decision -- must be named in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education
Appeal of Robert W. Fife, Decisions of the Commissioner of Eduction 15,533

Robert W. Fife held a tenured appointment with the Delaware Valley Central School District. Fife’s tenure area: physical education and health. In 1999 Delaware merged with the Jeffersonville-Youngsville and Narrowsburg School Districts to form the Sullivan West Central School District.

As a result of the merger, a .5 full-time equivalent (“FTE”) position in the physical education tenure area and a .5 FTE position in the health tenure area were eliminated. Fife was told that as he was least senior person in those tenure areas, he would be terminated effective June 30, 2005, and that his name would be placed on a preferred eligible list.

Following this, Fife was appointed to a .4 FTE physical education position.

Fife challenged the district’s determination regarding his seniority, contending that while he mathematically devoted less than 40% of his total time providing health instruction during five of his ten years of employment, this was because he taught more classes than the number of periods that was usual and customary. He also claimed that the percentage of his time spent providing health instruction would increase if the time he spent teaching driver education were viewed as a co-curricular activity.

The Commissioner dismissed Fife’s appeal because of a procedural defect – Fife’s failure to “join” a necessary party in his appeal.* A necessary party is one whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of an appellant and must be joined as such.

Fife argued that he had no way of knowing the party or parties who would be adversely affected by a decision in his favor. However, there was only one other teacher employed by the District who held tenure in the area of health. Since Fife’s request for reinstatement, if successful, could affect the employment status of that teacher, the Commissioner ruled that the other teacher should have been joined as a necessary party to Fife’s appeal.

Notwithstanding this technical defect, the Commissioner commented that Fife’s appeal would have been dismissed on the merits had it not been dismissed on procedural grounds.

The Commissioner explained that seniority means length of service in a designated tenure area, rather than length of service in the district. Further, such service need not have been consecutive but “shall during each term for which seniority credit is sought, have constituted a substantial portion of the time of the professional educator.”

As used in Part 30 of the Commissioner’s regulations, the phrase “substantial portion” means 40 percent or more of the total time spent by a professional educator in the performance of his duties, exclusive of time spent in preparation, monitoring or in co-curricular activities (8 NYCRR §30.1[g]).

As Fife conceded that he devoted less than 40 percent of his total time providing health instruction during five of his ten years of employment he did not meet this standard.

Further, said the Commissioner, although Fife contended that failed to meet the “40 percent” because he taught more classes than the number of periods that was usual and customary, he did not indicated any legal basis for earning seniority credit in health during the years in which health instruction did not constitute a substantial portion of his time.

As to Fife’s attempt to have his duties teaching driver education as an assigned period during his regular work schedule, the Commissioner ruled that this does not support his contention that this instruction should be viewed as a co-curricular activity.

The Commissioner said that the District’s determination the Fife had less seniority than the teacher it had retained was neither arbitrary nor capricious and dismissed Fife’s appeal.

* Joining a necessary party requires that the individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption of the appeal and served with a copy of the notice of petition and the petition itself in order to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense.

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