The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McGINLEY
BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.
Jeffrey J. Bonifate, Kathleen D. Cooper-Moranelli, Denise Patten, Rebecca S. Horan, and Lisa L. Altemare (collectively, Bonifate) challenge the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County (common pleas court) which denied Bonifate's request to vacate the award of the arbitrator. The arbitrator rejected the proposition that the Ringgold School District (District) failed to grant teachers full credit for District years of service upon moving from one salary schedule to another in violation of Section 1142 of the Public School Code of 1949, (Code), Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. §11-1142.
The District and the Ringgold Education Association (REA) cross-appeal from the common pleas court's order which denied the District's motion to quash the petition of Bonifate.
The District and the REA stipulated to the facts before the arbitrator and that Article XIX of the 1999-2004 collective bargaining agreement (1999 Agreement) between the parties contained two separate salary schedules.
On December 13, 2004, REA filed a grievance and claimed the 1999 Agreement and the Code were violated because Bonifate, when he obtained permanent teaching certification, was not placed on the proper step of the Career schedule based upon his years of service in the District. On February 25, 2005, the grievance was amended to include all other bargaining unit members in like or similar circumstances. There were forty bargaining unit members that claimed relief under the grievance. When hired by the District, all but two of them were placed on the salary schedule for teachers who had not yet obtained permanent certification. At the time of hire, each bargaining unit member signed a temporary professional employment contract which stated the starting salary for each employee. Crucially, all forty of the bargaining unit members received salaries in excess of the State minimums contained in Section 1142 of the Code.
The parties agreed to bifurcate the arbitration hearing into liability and damages. The parties began to negotiate a successor agreement to the 1999 Agreement in January 2004, but had not reached a new agreement. On February 15, 2006, the District and the REA finally signed a successor agreement effective from September 1, 2004, through August 31, 2008.
On February 17, 2006, the arbitrator denied the grievance. The arbitrator reasoned:
Significantly, the Association [REA] does not argue that the School District failed to strictly comply with the clear and unambiguous provisions of the collective bargaining agreements. Rather, it argues that despite following the agreed upon provisions professional employees failed to receive proper salary schedule credit for each year of service in the District. It further argues that when a professional employee is moved to the 18 step schedule they are not placed on a step within the schedule representing one step for every year of service. Thus both the letter and spirit of Section 1142 have been violated. I strongly disagree. . . . . . . . In each of the last three collective bargaining agreements there have been at least two separate salary schedules for professional employees. Employees were placed on the lower salary schedule once they had obtained their permanent teaching certification. However, regardless of where a professional employee was originally placed upon hire, or where they were subsequently moved either on the same salary schedule or from one salary schedule to another, each employee received a salary increase each year and was paid in excess of the minimum salaries required under Section 1142 of the School Code. Since the Ringgold School District has always paid Grievants in excess of the statutorily required salaries it's [sic] means of doing so, which in this case are multiple salary schedules, are irrelevant. The Ringgold School District has therefore met it's [sic] statutory duty under Section 1142.
The Commonwealth Court in Axelrod v. Board of Education, 740 A.2d 1225 ([Pa. Cmwlth.] 1999). . . also addressed the issue of compensation beyond state mandated minimums.
'Once the state minimums (under Section 1142) have been met the provision has been satisfied and nothing in the provision prevents other means to be used to determine salary increases. . . .'
In the Ringgold School District the 'other means to determine salary increases' is and has been a negotiated system of multiple salary schedules that provide for salaries in excess of the state minimums as well as increases for each year of service after the time of hire. . . . .
What the Association's argument boils down to is the fact that there is not a linear, numerical advancement from the numbered steps on the new teachers' salary schedule, which contains six sequentially numbered steps, to the salary schedule for teachers with permanent certification, which contains 18 sequentially numbered steps. In other words, a teacher does not eventually progress from Step 3 on the new teacher's schedule to Step 4 on the permanent certification schedule. However, nothing in the collective bargaining agreement indicates that the parties ever intended there to be such a correlation between the two schedules. The numbering of the steps was strictly for the convenience of the parties and does not necessarily represent one year of service for each step. . . . There simply is no direct inter-relationship between the numbered steps on the separate salary schedules. In fact, the parties clearly were cognizant of this issue and specifically addressed it by establishing where on the permanent salary schedule new hires are to be placed upon obtaining permanent certification. That ultimate placement was not meant, however, to reflect a direct correlation with the total number of years ...