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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An educator’s tenure rights are not sacrosanct and should yield to administrative decisions based on economics and sound educational policy

An educator’s tenure rights are not sacrosanct and should yield to administrative decisions based on economics and sound educational policy

Educator, a tenured foreign language teacher, taught .8 Full Time Equivalent [FTE] French, for which she is state certified, and .2 FTE Spanish, for which she is not certified.* The Board notified her that her full-time teaching assignment would be reduced to a .6 FTE part-time position. The Board then hired a new teacher to teach German on a .2 FTE basis.

Supreme Court dismissed Educator’s application seeking a review a decision of the Board of Education, contending that the Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by reducing Educator's teaching assignment and hiring another teacher without first attempting to shuffle the schedules of other teachers in the school district, including the most senior teacher[Senior] in the foreign language tenure area who was certified to teach German.

The Appellate Division held that Supreme Court correctly found that the Board's determination was not arbitrary, capricious or unlawful explaining that school districts are granted "sufficient latitude within the law to manage their affairs efficiently and effectively," including the ability to consolidate and abolish teaching positions for financial reasons.

The decision also noted that in the event a teaching position is consolidated or abolished, the Education Law requires that "the services of the teacher having the least seniority in the system within the tenure of the position abolished shall be discontinued."

Citing a number of decisions including Chambers v Board of Educ. of Lisbon Cent. School Dist., 47 NY2d 279, the Appellate Division said that to comply with the statute, “a board of education must, if possible, make schedule adjustments and shuffle teachers within the same tenure area to retain a district's most senior teachers.” 

However, the court noted, tenure rights are not sacrosanct and "should yield to decisions based on economics and sound educational policy." In such situations the board of education bears the burden of proving that it was impossible to adjust schedules to retain the more senior teacher, and this burden can be met with proof that proposed schedules are "not educationally or financially feasible."

Educator contended that the Board could have shuffled schedules by having Senior teach .8 FTE French and .2 FTE German** and giving .2 FTE French classes to Educator, resulting in Senior  having a full-time schedule and Educator with .8 FTE schedule, eliminating the need to employ a new teacher to teach .2 FTE German.

The court said that the Board considered this schedule arrangement, but found it educationally unsound and not logistically feasible. In addition to considering Senior’s self-professed incompetency to teach German, the Board considered the difficulty or impossibility of scheduling Educator to teach classes in both the middle school and high school, considering the differences in starting and ending times, different bell schedules in the two buildings and travel time between the two buildings.

Although the Board had not meet its burden of proving the impossibility of "schedule shuffling" based on the logistical problems, the Appellate Division concluded that the Board met its burden overall.

Although it would have been legally possible for Senior to teach German as she was certified in that language, the record supports the Board's assertion that it would not have been educationally sound to adjust the schedules as Educator suggested considering the fact that Senior had not taught German in 20 years and was admittedly incompetent to teach it.

Given this educational reason and the Board's economic reasons for reducing the number of French classes, the Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court correctly found that the Board complied with Education Law §3013 and its determination was not arbitrary or capricious.

Teacher taught .2 FTE Spanish which although outside her area of certification was permitted by Department of Education regulations.

** The most senior teacher, although certified to teach German, “self-professed [her] incompetency to teach German” as she had only a few sections of German throughout her career, the last of which was in 1991, and has taught French exclusively since then.

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