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Cook v. Chambersburg Area School District

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 28, 2014

Joyce Cook, Appellant
v.
Chambersburg Area School District and Shippensburg Area School District

Argued, March 10, 2014,

Appealed from No. 2077-4133. Common Pleas Court of the County of Franklin. Herman, J.

Michael J. O'Connor, Harrisburg, for Appellant.

David P. Andrews, Altoona, for Appellee Shippensburg Area School District.

Kimberly A. Boyer-Cohen, Philadelphia, for Appellee Chambersburg Area School District.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLIGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge. DISSENTING OPINION BY PRESIDENT JUDGE PELLEGRINI.

OPINION

Page 420

COLINS, SENIOR JUDGE

Joyce Cook appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District (Franklin County Branch) granting summary judgment in favor of Chambersburg Area School District (CASD) and Shippensburg Area School District (SASD; collectively, the Districts) and dismissing Cook's complaint against the Districts brought pursuant to Section 1113 of the Public School Code of 1949, commonly referred to as the Transfer Between Entities Act (Act).[1] For the reasons that follow, we affirm the order of the trial court.

Prior to the commencement of this action, Cook was employed as a teacher at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center (Career-Tech Center) for approximately 29 years from 1977 to 2006. (Deposition of Joyce Cook (Cook Dep.) at 8-9, 14, Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 74a, 76a.) The Career-Tech Center is a vocational high school located in Chambersburg that serves the six school districts in Franklin County, including CASD and SASD. (Complaint ¶ 6, R.R. at 6a.)

During her entire career at the Career-Tech Center, Cook taught in the Business

Page 421

Data Processing (BDP) program. (Cook Dep. at 14, R.R. at 76a.) The BDP program, which evolved over time with changing technologies, did not allow students to choose individual courses but rather offered a set three-year curriculum over the sophomore, junior and senior years of high school with instruction in various business related topics, such as software, accounting, business mathematics, office procedures, data processing, and career development. ( Id. at 14-18, R.R. at 76a-77a; Business Data Processing Program Course of Study, Jan. 2, 2003, R.R. at 302a-333a.) Cook holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education and Department of Education teaching certificates in Accounting, Typewriting and Data Processing. (Cook Dep. at 9-10, R.R. at 74a-75a; Professional Certificate, R.R. at 253a.)

Though the Districts sent students to the BDP program at the Career-Tech Center, both CASD and SASD had for many years prior to 2006 also maintained business education programs in their high schools for students who did not enroll at the Career-Tech Center. (Cook Dep. at 17-18, 62-63, R.R. at 76a-77a, 88a; Deposition of Dr. Eric Michael, Assistant Superintendent of CASD (Michael Dep.) at 14-15, R.R. at 112a.) The business education programs in both of the Districts offered a range of classes on different business topics; during the 2006-2007 school year, SASD offered 15 courses and CASD offered approximately 20 courses.[2] (Michael Dep. at 14-15, R.R. at 112a; Shippensburg Area Senior High School Program of Studies: 2006-2007 at 8-10, R.R. at 447a-449a.)

Beginning with the 2006-2007 school year, the Districts decided to discontinue sending their students to the BDP program at the Career-Tech Center with the intention of incorporating those students into the existing business education programs at their high schools. (Complaint ¶ ¶ 7, 8, R.R. at 6a; Michael Dep. at 12-13, R.R. at 111a.) Enrollment in the BDP program had been dwindling for some time; CASD had sent 81 students to the BDP program in the 1998-99 school year and only 25 students in 2004-2005 and 33 students in 2005-2006. (Michael Dep. at 13-17, R.R. at 111a-112a; CASD Enrollment List for BDP Program, R.R. at 157a.) SASD sent 3 students to the BDP program during the 2004-2005 school year and 5 students in 2005-2006. (Cook Dep. at 58, R.R. at 87a; SASD Enrollment List for BDP Program, R.R. at 377a-381a.)

Faced with reduced enrollment, the Career-Tech Center decided to close the BDP program at the conclusion of the 2005-2006 school year. (Complaint ¶ 9, R.R. at 6a; Minutes of Career-Tech Center's May 25, 2006 Joint Operating Committee Meeting at 2, R.R. at 383a.) The Career-Tech Center informed Cook that she was suspended from her teaching position effective June 30, 2006. (May 25, 2006 Letter of Chairman of Career-Tech Center Joint Operating Committee, R.R. at 384a-385a.) Cook requested a medical sabbatical for the 2006-2007 school year, and the Career-Tech Center approved Cook's sabbatical on June 23, 2006. (May 30, 2006

Page 422

Sabbatical Leave Request, R.R. at 188a; June 23, 2006 Letter Approving Sabbatical, R.R. at 190a-193a.)

In the spring of 2007, the Districts advertised openings for teaching positions in their business education programs beginning in the 2007-2008 school year.[3] CASD had three openings: one position was for instruction on Essential Software Applications, QuickBooks and Interactive Media; the second position required certification in Office Technology; and the third was a Cooperative Education position. (Michael Dep. at 23-30, R.R. at 114a-116a; CASD Answer to Cook Interrogatory No. 4, R.R. at 136a-137a.) The first opening was the result of a transfer within the school, the second opening was created because of a retirement, while only the third opening, for a Cooperative Education instructor, was a newly created position. (Michael Dep. at 23-30, R.R. at 114a-116a; July 16, 2007 Letter of Jan G. Sulcove, Counsel for CASD, R.R. at 294a.)

Cook applied for the three open positions at CASD on May 21, 2007, and she was interviewed by CASD for the positions shortly thereafter. (Cook Dep. at 38-39, R.R. at 82a; Application, R.R. at 158a.) Cook was informed by CASD in June 2007 that other applicants had been hired to fill the three positions. (Cook Dep. at 39-40, R.R. at 82a.)

SASD had one opening in its business education department for the 2007-2008 school year following a retirement. (Deposition of Dr. Jacqueline Lesney, Superintendent at SASD (Lesney Dep.) at 14-15, R.R. at 529a.) SASD advertised for an opening for a " business education teacher" in early May 2007, and Cook applied for this position on May 9, 2007. (Newspaper advertisements, R.R. at 389a-395a; May 9, 2007 Application, R.R. at 396a-403a.) Cook was not contacted by SASD to interview for this opening. (Cook Dep. at 42, 54, R.R. at 83a, 86a.) On May 31, 2007, the Principal of Shippensburg Area Senior High School informed Cook that the school had hired another teacher for the open business education position. ( Id. at 54, R.R. at 86a; May 31, 2007 Email of Fred Shilling, R.R. at 423a.)

Shortly after being notified that she had not been hired for the open positions at CASD and SASD, a representative from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) sent letters to the Districts stating that PSEA had learned that the Districts filled the open positions with persons other than Cook and that Cook should have been offered the positions pursuant to the Act because the Districts had caused Cook's suspension by deciding to stop sending students to the BDP program. (June 21, 2007 Letters of Marcia A. Bender, R.R. at 292a, 422a.) Cook thereafter filed a grievance against the Career-Tech Center for failure to report to the Districts that she was entitled to vacant positions under the Act. (June 26, 2007 Grievance Report Form, R.R. at 424a.) The grievance was denied. (Cook Dep. at 33-34, R.R. at 80a-81a.)

Cook filed the instant action against the Districts on November 16, 2007. In her complaint, Cook alleged that the decision by the Districts to " take back" the BDP program from the Career-Tech Center, and her resulting suspension, triggered the Act, and that the Districts violated the Act by failing to hire her for their open positions for the 2007-2008 school year. The Districts filed Answers and New Matters

Page 423

in late 2007. In the fall of 2012, following the close of discovery, the Districts filed motions ...


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