Paczosa v. Cartwright Elementary School Dist. – 6/23/2009

July 2, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That School District Administrators Who Fail to Sign New Employment Contracts Are Not Entitled to Return to Positions as Tenured Teachers.

Plaintiffs Paczosa and Faulkner (“Plaintiffs”) served as principals in the Cartwright Elementary School District (the “District”) during the 2006-2007 school year.  Their 2006-2007 contracts stated that if the Board did not intend to offer them a contract for the next fiscal year, it was required to notify them of this decision by April 15, 2007, or else the current contract would be extended automatically by one year.  The contracts also included a provision that permitted them to receive retirement benefits over the pay periods of one, two, or three contract years immediately prior to the termination of their employment.  In January 2007 Plaintiffs notified the District that they intended to take their retirement benefits and spread them over the last 3 years of their employment.  In May 2007, the District offered Plaintiffs contracts as principals for the 2007-2008 year that included modified retirement benefits.  Plaintiffs did not sign these contracts and notified the District that they planned to continue working under their 2006-2007 contracts.

Plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action against the District seeking a declaration that their 2006-2007 employment contracts had been automatically extended, that they were entitled to the retirement benefits in the 2006-2007 contracts, and that they had three-year contracts of employment.  The parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether Plaintiffs were entitled to continued employment as tenured teachers.  The Superior Court granted the District’s motion, ruling that Plaintiffs were not entitled to continued employment as tenured teachers.  Plaintiffs appealed.

The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed, ruling that Plaintiffs were not entitled to be returned to their prior positions as tenured teachers because the statutes do not provide tenure for administrators, and the District was under no obligation to return them to the classroom.  The Court also held that Plaintiffs’ contracts had not been automatically extended, reasoning that because the Board intended to offer Plaintiffs new, 2007-2008 contracts, the April 15, 2007 deadline was inapplicable.  The Court further held that the language of the retirement benefits provision in Plaintiffs’ 2006-2007 contracts limited those benefits to one fiscal year, thereby permitting the Board to change the benefits offered in the 2007-2008 contract, and that Plaintiffs did not have three-year employment contracts by virtue of their decision to participate in the three-year retirement benefits option. 

Judge Barker authored the opinion, Judges Weisberg and Gemmill concurred.