Appeal from the Order of the Secretary of Education in case of Appeal of Betty M. Higginbotham, a Professional Employe, from a decision of the Board of School Directors of the Charleroi Area School District, Washington County, Pennsylvania, No. 229.
Melvin B. Bassi, for appellant.
Edward A. Miller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Mencer.
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The decrease in both the size of the student body and of the real income of school districts resulting from inflation and the decline of tax revenue due to unemployment have combined to force responsible school boards
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to face up to the reduction of the number of employees they can retain. In such difficult times, "the suit must be cut to fit the cloth" and priorities must be established. Within the bounds of the exercise of sound discretion, it is the school boards' always difficult and frequently distasteful duty and responsibility to reduce the size of either or both the non-professional and professional staff. Under such circumstances, as to professional employees, the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. § 1-101 et seq., provides the appropriate procedures to reduce the size of the professional staff that has obtained tenured status. As in the case of the dismissal or suspension of any tenured employee, if these procedures are not followed, then the tenured professional employee affected is entitled to be reinstated. Jacobs v. Wilkes-Barre Township School District, 355 Pa. 449, 50 A.2d 354 (1947); Bragg v. Swarthmore School District, 337 Pa. 363, 367-68, 11 A.2d 152, 155 (1940).
"In the resolution dismissing appellant, none of the statutory grounds were mentioned as the reason for terminating her contract. Instead, the Board losely characterized the move as being 'economical, efficient, productive . . .' This amounts to saying that whenever the Board deems a teacher unnecessary for any reason whatever, the contract may be successfully terminated. In Langan v. Pittston School District, 335 Pa. 395, 399, we answered such a contention by saying: 'This, of course, was not the intention of the Act; it is directly opposed to it. The purpose of the Tenture Act, reiterated often in our opinions, was "the maintenance of an adequate and competent teaching staff, free from political and personal arbitrary interference, whereby capable and competent teachers might feel secure, and more efficiently perform their duty of instruction."'" (Emphasis in original.)
It is not contested that the proper procedures for the dismissal of a tenured professional employee were not
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followed in this instance. As appropriately stated in the first sentence of appellant's brief: "The heart of the issue is whether or not this employee was in fact a professional employee. . . ."*fn1 The Secretary of Education has decided that the employee involved in this case ...