Appeal, No. 222, Jan. T., 1955, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Dec. T., 1952, No. 591, in case of Thomas E. Welsko v. School Board of School District of Township of Foster et al. Order affirmed.
Cletus M. Lyman, with him Anthony J. Ciotola, for appellants.
Albert F. Maier, for appellee.
Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO
Thomas E. Welsko taught in the elementary grades of Foster Township, Luzerne County from September, 1916 to June, 1926, and then taught in the high school from September 1, 1934 to June 9, 1952, when he was suspended because of a decrease pupil enrollment. On October 30, 1952, he brought an action in mandamus for reinstatement, averring that while the School Board was justified in reducing the teaching staff on account of the District's financial condition, it was not warranted in suspending him in favor of five other retained teachers with less seniority rights than his. The suspension of school teachers is governed by paragraph (b), section 1125 of Article XI of the 1949 School Code, P.L. 30 (24 P.S. 11-1125) which provides: "(b) In cases in which suspensions are to be made, professional employes shall be retained on the basis of seniority
rights, acquired within the school district of current employment, where no differences in rating are found ..." Seniority rights exist for the dual purpose "of assuring continuity of service for faithful labor and providing efficient service to the state gained by experience." (Wesenberg Case, 346 Pa. 438.)
Seniority is a matter not to be treated lightly. The very stability of our schools depends on retaining those teachers who because of long years of experience and devotion have earned the obedience of the pupils, the admiration of the parents, and the respect of the community. Considering the comparatively low salaries paid the teaching profession, the very least that should be guaranteed them is fireproof tenure for their invaluable services in preparing the future citizens of this great Republic. As stated by Chief Justice KEPHART in Walker's Appeal, 332 Pa. 488, 491, the purpose of the Teachers' Tenure Act "was the maintenance of an adequate and competent teaching staff, free from political or arbitrary interference, whereby capable and competent teachers might feel secure, and more efficiently perform their duty of instruction."
The defendant School Board in this case does not contest the general principle of seniority rights but asserts that although five of the retained teachers had less years of service than the plaintiff, they taught subjects for which the plaintiff was not qualified to teach. In this connection Welsko admits that three of those teachers taught subjects for which there wer no other certified teachers available and, consequently, could not be replaced. He pointed out, however, that the subjects taught by two of the retained teachers, namely, Peter Kundra and Richard Gallagher, could be taught by other teachers on the Foster teaching staff, and that therefore, they should have been suspended prior to him, especially in view of the fact that a Joseph Johnson,
who was assigned to take over the subjects taught by Welsko could have been assigned to the studies ...