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Appellate Division Issues Two Opinions Addressing Tenure Charges

Newton v. State-Operated School District of the City of Newark, Dkt. No. A-4129-15T1 (App. Div. March 27, 2018)

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, vacated an arbitration award which terminated a tenured teacher’s employment. The school district appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed the Law Division’s decision.

The tenure charges alleged that the teacher was inefficient, based upon evaluations from the 2012-13 school year through the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. Thus, the school district alleged that it had the required two years of ineffective or partially ineffective evaluations, i.e., for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, required under TEACHNJ to bring inefficiency tenure charges.

The issue was whether the evaluations conducted under TEACHNJ for the 2012-13 could count as one of the two required years of evaluations for the purposes of inefficiency tenure charges. The teacher argued that the 2012-13 school year was a pilot year under TEACHNJ, meaning that the evaluation rubrics had not yet been finalized by the Department of Education and were still being tested, such that that year’s evaluations did not count for purposes of inefficiency tenure charges. The Law Division, and ultimately the Appellate Division, agreed. The teacher did not have two consecutive years of ineffective or partially ineffective evaluations because the 2012-13 school year’s evaluations did not count. The Appellate Division concluded that as a result, the arbitration award upholding the tenure charges were properly dismissed, since the arbitration award terminating the tenured teacher was procured through undue means, in that the arbitrator made a mistake of law apparent on the face of the record.

Tobia v. Bd. of Ed. of Lakewood Twp., Dkt. No. A-5336-15T1` (App. Div. March 12, 2018)

Tenure charges were brought against a tenured special education supervisor based upon an allegation of conduct unbecoming in handling eligibility and placement of the school district’s special education students. An arbitration hearing was held, and the arbitrator terminated the tenured supervisor’s employment. The supervisor appealed, and the Superior Court, Chancery Division confirmed the award. The supervisor appealed to the Appellate Division, and the Appellate Division upheld the arbitration award.

The supervisor challenged the arbitrator’s award on the grounds that the arbitrator wrongfully denied the teacher’s motion to disqualify the school board’s counsel, and to prevent the counsel from acting as witness(es) in the hearing. The supervisor claimed that she was a client of the school board counsel pursuant to her position as supervisor, and that therefore there was a conflict of interest created by the board counsel representing the board and acting as witness(es) in the hearing. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Chancery Division, which upheld the award, since the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys provides that the only persons represented by an entity’s attorney are those in the litigation control group, of which the supervisor was not a member.

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