Appeal from the Order of the Public School Employees' Retirement System, in case of Charles J. Abramski, SS No. 204-22-9629.
Keith A. Bassi, Bassi and Rega, P.C. for petitioner.
Nicholas Joseph Marcucci, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Rogers, Craig, MacPhail, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Barry.
In this appeal we must determine whether damages awarded to a school teacher as a result of a breach of contract by the school district should be credited for purposes of retirement benefits to the year when the money would have been earned if the contract had not been breached or to the year when the money was actually paid.
Prior to his retirement on August 29, 1982, Charles J. Abramski (petitioner) had been employed as a school teacher for approximately twenty-seven years. During his service as a school teacher he was also retained under a three year contract by the Ringgold School District to serve as a football coach for 1974-1977. However, he was subsequently terminated from this position and was not permitted to coach during the 1976-77 school year. Petitioner filed a suit for breach of contract and on June 15, 1979, he was awarded $2,200.00 plus interest. On May 29, 1981, the Ringgold School District paid him $2,200.00 plus $638.00 in interest. In computing petitioner's final average salary, the Public School Employees' Retirement System credited the $2,200.00 to 1976-77, the school year during which the money would have been earned if the contract had not been breached. Petitioner appealed this determination to the Public School Employees' Retirement Board (Board) on the basis that the entire amount should have been credited to 1980-81, the school year during which the money was actually paid. The Board found no merit in petitioner's contention and dismissed the appeal. We affirm.
On appeal to this court, petitioner maintains that the Board's decision is contrary to the provisions of the Public School Employees' Retirement Code (Code), 24 Pa. C.S. §§ 8101-8534. More specifically, he relies on § 8102 of the Code which defines final average salary as
"[t]he highest average compensation received as an active member during any three nonoverlapping periods of twelve consecutive months. . . ." (Emphasis added.) He then concludes that since compensation is defined in the Code as "any remuneration received as a school employee," the money which he received during the 1980-81 school year must be considered compensation for that year.
The Board, on the other hand, submits that this interpretation is very simplistic and, if adopted, would produce unreasonable and arbitrary results. The Board first notes that the Code does not specifically provide for the crediting of damage awards as compensation. However, in keeping with its policy to liberally administer the retirement system in favor of the members, the Board has opted to credit the award as if the contract had never been breached. The Board believes that this constructive awarding of compensation is anticipated and permitted by the Code.
Section 8302(a) of the Code provides, in part, as follows:
(a) Computation of credited service. -- In computing credited school service of a member for the determination of benefits, a full-time salaried school employee shall receive one year of credit for each school year or the corresponding fraction thereof, in accordance with the proportion of the full school year for ...