In another blow to school districts’ ability to address problem teachers, the New York State Court of Appeals recently upheld the Appellate Division, Fourth Department decision in Kilduff v. Rochester City School District, invalidating a negotiated, contractual disciplinary procedure for tenured teachers.
In Kilduff, the school district’s collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union contained a decades-old provision requiring that all discipline, other than termination, be submitted to the grievance and arbitration procedure in the CBA as an alternative to the procedures required by Education Law § 3020-a. In 1994, the legislature amended Education Law § 3020 to require that all negotiated disciplinary procedures covering tenured faculty must provide teachers with the option to elect § 3020-a procedures instead of the negotiated procedures. The statute grandfathered provisions in collective bargaining agreements entered into prior to September 1, 1994 and not subsequently altered, or so the school district and union thought.
In September 2011, Ms. Kilduff received a 30-day disciplinary suspension. Since the disciplinary procedures in the CBA covering Ms. Kilduff pre-dated the 1994 amendment, the school district implemented the suspension. When Ms. Kilduff requested a § 3020-a hearing, the school district denied Ms. Kilduff’s request and referred her to the grievance procedure in the CBA, as the district and the teachers’ union had done without question for the prior seventeen years.
Ms. Kilduff filed a petition in Monroe County Supreme Court alleging that her right to a hearing under Education Law § 3020-a was violated. Agreeing with the school district, the Supreme Court denied the petition. Upon appeal, the Fourth Department reversed, holding that, although the disciplinary procedures in the CBA had not been altered since 1994, because the CBA had been revised, the provision was no longer grandfathered. Therefore, according to the Fourth Department, the school district was required to offer Ms. Kilduff the option of a § 3020-a hearing. As noted above, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Fourth Department and upheld the appeal.
While this decision affects only those school districts that had alternative disciplinary procedures pre-dating September 1, 1994, it serves as a reminder to all school districts (and unions) that the overly burdensome § 3020-a process cannot be negotiated away.