KMTG Attorneys Christian M. Keiner and Emily E. LaMoe completed the successful defense of a school district’s 2007 lay-off when the California Supreme Court declined to either review the case or depublish the opinion issued by the California Court of Appeal.
In Bledsoe v. Biggs Unified School District, (170 Cal.App. 4th 127, Cal.App. 3 Dist., December 23, 2008), a California Court of Appeal recently considered whether a school district abused its discretion by laying off a tenured teacher while the district “skipped” two teachers with less seniority who teach at a community day school. Specifically the Bledsoe opinion holds that : (1) pursuant to Education Code section 44955 subdivision (b) a teacher subject to RIF may prove that he or she is credentialed and competent pursuant to the governing Board’s resolution to “bump” a more junior employee(s), and (2) the school district conducting the RIF may prove that it is entitled pursuant to section 44955(d) to “skip” a junior employee(s) when it caries its burden of proof meeting the statutory criteria. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court below and ruled that: (1) Bledsoe met his burden under 44955 subdivision (b) and (2) the District met its burden under section 44955 subdivision (d)(1).
The Board of Trustees (“Board”) of the Biggs Unified School District (“District”) adopted a resolution to decrease the number of District’s certificated employees at the end of the 2006/2007 school year because District was experiencing budgetary shortfalls. District gave Vernon Lane Bledsoe (“Bledsoe”) timely notice that his services would not be required for the next school year. Bledsoe had worked for District for nine years teaching seventh and eighth grade students both English and social science. Bledsoe was senior on the seniority list to two teachers who worked for District’s community day school. District, however, “skipped” the two teachers, Scott Gates (“Gates”) and Vince Sormano (“Sormano”), and gave Bledsoe a layoff notice.
Bledsoe requested a hearing to determine if there was cause to reemploy him for the next year. At the hearing, District’s Interim Superintendent, Rick Light (“Light”), testified that he looked to a 2004 administrative law decision that determined Sormano and Gates were properly retained in a previous reduction in force (“RIF”) and that they should be exempt again because there was no break in their service.
Bledsoe has multiple credentials, is highly qualified in multiple subjects for No Child Left Behind, took 15 units of sociology and psychology in college, taught for one year in the mornings at a juvenile hall, taught at a community day school for one semester in the afternoons, and worked two summers at a county boys camp. Bledsoe, however, has not taken any psychology or sociology courses since college, and other than in-service programs, he has not been trained in drug abuse recognition. He has not worked in a community day school since 1995 and he has no experience in the last 5 years working in a self-contained classroom.
Gates has a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology, he is credentialed and highly qualified in multiple subjects, he has 10 years teaching experience and eight of those years have been spent working with disabled populations, and he has extensive training in aggression management, drug abuse recognition, and mediation. Gates has been teaching in a self-contained classroom that covers grades 4 through 8 since 2004 and he has demonstrated that he has the required temperament to teach in the community school environment.
Sormano only has a single social science credential but he is highly qualified in the subject and he has taken sufficient coursework to cover most other high school subjects. Like Gates, Sormano has been teaching in a self-contained classroom since 2004, but Sormano has taught grades 9 through 12. Sormano has a number of units in sociology, extensive training in drug abuse recognition and in management of assaultive behavior, and has the temperament required to successfully teach in the community day school environment.
The administrative law judge concluded that “District’s application of the tie-breaking criteria was appropriate” and Board adopted that decision and sent Bledsoe a final layoff notice. The Biggs Unified Teachers Association (“Association”) and Bledsoe filed a petition for administrative writ challenging the District’s layoff decision. The trial court denied the petition and Association and Bledsoe appealed.
Education Code section 44955, subdivision (b), provides in pertinent part, “Except as otherwise provided by statute, the services of no permanent employee may be terminated under the provisions of this section while . . . any other employee with less seniority, is retained to render a service which said permanent employee is certificated and competent to render.” Section 44955, subdivision (d)(1) as amended, provides an exception to subdivision (b). The court explained that pursuant to subdivision (d)(1) a school district may retain a junior employee where it “demonstrates specific need for personnel to teach a specific course of study, that a junior credentialed employee has special training and experience necessary to teach that course and that the senior certificated employee does not possess such necessary special training and experience.”
The court found that (1) pursuant to Education Code section 44955 subdivision (b) a teacher subject to RIF may prove that he or she is credentialed and competent pursuant to the governing Board’s resolution to “bump” a more junior employee(s); and (2) the school district conducting the RIF may prove that it is entitled pursuant to section 44955, subdivision (d) to “skip” a junior employee(s) when it carries its burden of proof meeting the statutory criteria. The Court of Appeal also held that tie-breaking criteria could be applied at the time of the layoff hearing and that judicial notice could be taken of previous lay-off decisions.
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