Appeal from the Order of the Secretary of Education in case of Lawrence Patchel v. Board of School Directors of the Wilkinsburg School District, Teacher Tenure Appeal No. 317.
Alfred C. Maiello, for petitioner.
Roger J. Ecker, with him Peacock, Keller, Yohe, Day & Ecker, for respondent.
Judges Rogers, Blatt and DiSalle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
Lawrence Patchel (petitioner) appeals here from an order of the Secretary of Education (Secretary) dismissing with modification his appeal from a demotion by the Board of School Directors of the Wilkinsburg School District (Board).
The petitioner, a professional employee, was the principal of the Horner Middle School when on May 13, 1976 the School District Superintendent expressed dissatisfaction with the petitioner's performance as
principal and suggested that he could voluntarily: (1) return to classroom teaching; (2) accept a demotion to assistant principal; or (3) remain as principal in name only, with another principal being in charge. The petitioner refused, in a letter dated May 16, 1976, to accept voluntarily any of the options presented. On May 24, 1976, the Board adopted a resolution directing that another person, Dr. Leftwich, who had previously been a coordinating principal at the Horner Middle School, be put in charge of that building. On May 27, 1976, the Superintendent rated the petitioner's performance "unsatisfactory" on a form known as a DEBE-333(5-72) and he notified the petitioner on June 16, 1976, that he would recommend his demotion to the Board from principal to assistant principal. On July 8, the Board resolved that a statement of charges against the petitioner warranted a hearing to determine whether or not he should be demoted, and a hearing was begun on July 19 at which the petitioner was present and testified. The hearing continued on August 23, 24 and 30 and September 19, 1976, and the Board resolved on September 29, 1976, to demote the petitioner who then appealed to the Secretary. A hearing was held before the Secretary, after which an order was entered dismissing the petitioner's appeal but modifying the Board's decision by reinstating the petitioner to the rank of Principal until the conclusion of his demotion hearings on September 19, 1976, having found that the petitioner had been effectively demoted on May 13, 1976, by improper administrative action. This appeal followed.
Our scope of review is limited here to a determination of whether or not the adjudication was in accordance with law, the petitioner's constitutional rights were violated and the findings of the Secretary were supported by substantial evidence. 2 Pa. C.S. § 704.
The petitioner alleges that his demotion was invalid for three reasons: first, that the reasons for the demotion were arbitrary and capricious; second, that the School District did not properly adhere to the procedures required for an effective rating; and third, that he was effectively and improperly demoted before the hearing took place, thus making the demotion approved after the hearing also invalid.
As to the petitioner's first argument, the law is clear that demotions pursuant to the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code)*fn1 are presumptively valid. Lucostic v. Brownsville Area School District, 6 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 587, 297 A.2d 516 (1972). The demoted employee has also been clearly held to bear the heavy burden of proving that the school board acted arbitrarily or upon improper considerations. Smith v. Darby School District, 388 Pa. 301, 130 A.2d 661 (1957). A review of the record here reveals, however, that the petitioner has failed to meet that burden. The Board presented forty-five specific charges under three categories: (1) Personality-Judgment, (2) Preparation and (3) Technique. Although the petitioner denied many of the charges, there ...