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RONA C. POOKMAN v. SCHOOL DISTRICT TOWNSHIP UPPER ST. CLAIR (11/20/84)

decided: November 20, 1984.

RONA C. POOKMAN, FRANK G. EISENREICH, AND JANIS M. MURACA, APPELLEES,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE TOWNSHIP OF UPPER ST. CLAIR, APPELLANT



No. 39 W.D. Appeal Docket 1984, Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, No. 2606 C.D. 1982, dated January 26, 1984, reversing the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County at No. SA 357 of 1982 entered September 20, 1982, Pa. Commw. , 470 A.2d 110 (1984).

COUNSEL

Richard DiSalle, Samuel L. Douglass, Templeton Smith, Jr., Rose, Schmidt, Dixon & Hasley, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Louis B. Kushner, Stephen H. Jordan, Ronald G. Backer, Rothman, Gordon, Foreman & Groudine, P.A., Pittsburgh, for appellees.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. McDermott, J., concurred in the result. Nix, C.j., filed a dissenting opinion which Zappala, J., joined. Zappala, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Papadakos, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Larsen

[ 506 Pa. Page 76]

OPINION OF THE COURT

The issue presented by this case is whether certain teacher employees (appellees) were tenured or non-tenured in relation to the Upper St. Clair school district's (appellant's) decision not to renew these teacher employees' contracts.

Appellees, Rona Pookman, Frank Eisenreich and Janis Muraca, were hired by the Upper St. Clair school district in August, 1979. During appellees' second year of teaching, on April 30, 1981, the district decided not to renew their contracts, due to a significant decline in student enrollment in the district.*fn1 The district's decision was to take effect on June 12, 1981, which was to be the last day of appellees' contracts for that year.

Unlike non-tenured employees, tenured employees are entitled to considerations of seniority.*fn2 It is not disputed that on the date that the school district's decision was made, appellees were not tenured. Appellees argue, however, that since, under the School Code, a teacher who has two years of service and has not been rated unsatisfactory automatically receives tenure, and, since the district's decision was not to take effect until the last day of their second

[ 506 Pa. Page 77]

    year of service, they should be considered tenured employees. Thus, appellees conclude, they should have retained their teaching positions and other employees (who had less seniority but who were tenured because of their service in another school district) should have been furloughed instead.

After a hearing before the Upper St. Clair school board, the board affirmed the district's non-renewal decision. On appeal, the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County also affirmed. The Commonwealth Court reversed, however, holding that appellees were tenured employees when the district's decision took effect. Pookman v. School District of the Township of Upper St. Clair, 80 Pa. Commw. 14, 470 A.2d 1110 (1984). We granted the school district's petition for allowance of appeal, and we now reverse.

The standard of review in this case is defined by local agency law. Section 754(b) of the Code of Administrative Procedure provides, in pertinent part:

(b) [A reviewing] court shall affirm the adjudication [of a local agency] unless it shall find that the adjudication is in violation of the constitutional rights of the appellant, or is not in accordance with law, or that the provisions of Subchapter B of Chapter 5 (relating to practice and procedure of local agencies) have been violated in the proceedings before the agency, or that any finding of fact made by the agency and necessary to support its adjudication is not supported by substantial evidence.

2 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 754(b). Applying this standard to the instant case, we note that appellees do not claim that their constitutional rights were violated, nor do they complain about any of the school board's hearing procedures. Furthermore, the facts of the case are not in dispute. Our task, therefore, is to simply determine whether the board committed an error of law and, if so, to ...


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