On August 17, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued an unpublished opinion in which it upheld the Atlantic City Board of Education’s (“Board”) decision to change the employment of two supervisors from twelve-month positions to ten-month positions due to a reduction in force (“RIF”). This case highlights an important interplay between RIFs and tenure rights of public school employees.
The Board employed Lourdes Vidal-Turner and C. Dedra Williams (“Petitioners”) as teachers for numerous years. The Board then promoted each of them to a twelve-month supervisory position in which they later acquired tenured. The State Appointed Fiscal Monitor for the Board instituted a RIF effective July 1, 2015 resulting in the elimination of Petitioners’ twelve month positions. The Board reassigned them to ten-month positions. As a result, their salaries were reduced.
In September 2015, Petitioners appealed the Board’s action to the Commissioner of Education (“Commissioner”), which was then transferred to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Petitioners argued before the ALJ that the Board violated their tenure and seniority rights by changing their salaries to 10/12ths of their pre-RIF salaries. Petitioners argued that the Board should have compensated them at the monthly rates of their pre-RIF salaries. The ALJ ruled in favor of the Board, which the Commissioner affirmed in June 2016.
Petitioners then appealed the Commissioner’s decision to the Appellate Division. Petitioners conceded that N.J.S.A. 18A:28-9 authorized the Board to implement a RIF for reasons of economy. Petitioner further acknowledged that the RIF in this case was legitimate. Instead, Petitioners argued that N.J.S.A. 18A:28-5 regarding tenure rights precluded the Board from reducing the compensation of Petitioners below their monthly rate.
The Appellate Division rejected Petitioners’ argument and declined to interpret the tenure statutes as requiring a board of education to compensate a tenured employee who has been RIFed from a twelve-month to a ten-month position at their prorated pre-RIF salary. The Appellate Division concluded that Petitioners’ argument “renders an absurd result because it would limit the ability of the school board to exercise its judgment to allocate resources for reasons of economy.”