Questions are sometimes raised concerning the rights of school administrators or other Act 93 employees to enforce their rights under an applicable employment agreement or Act 93 agreement. By way of contrast, a professional employee who is unhappy with a rating received or other perceived loss of a benefit promised by an applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement may file a grievance under that Agreement, and is otherwise entitled to a hearing before the School Board if demoted in pay or position. But what sort of appeal rights, if any, does an administrator or Act 93 employee have if he or she receives an unfavorable review or is otherwise unhappy with a term or condition of employment?
The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas addressed this issue recently in the case of Dr. Pamela Pulkowski v. Mt. Lebanon School District. In that case, the Plaintiff was employed by a school district as an Associate Superintendent. Salary increases for administrators were determined by a written program appended to the Act 93 Agreement. The program calculated a particular administrator’s raise in accordance with the performance rating received by the administrator. Administrators who were rated as having “far exceeded expectations” would receive a 5% increase, while those rated as “meeting expectations” would receive a 3.5% salary increase, and those who were rated as “did not meet expectations” would not receive any salary increase.
The Plaintiff received a year-end evaluation of “did not meet expectations” and no salary increase. She appealed the evaluation to the Superintendent, as she was permitted to do under District procedure. After the Superintendent affirmed the evaluation, the Plaintiff appealed to the Board of School Directors, but the Board declined to review the matter.
From there, the Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas on the basis that the Board’s decision to deny hearing her appeal, which effectively upheld the evaluation and, by extension, the denial of a raise, constituted an “adjudication” which could be appealed under the Local Agency Law. The School District and its Board of School Directors filed preliminary objections to her appeal and claimed that she had not set forth a legal cause of action entitling her to relief.
Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr., in an Opinion and Order issued on October 16, 2006, concluded that the Plaintiff’s negative evaluation and resultant salary freeze did not constitute an adjudication, and thus there was no appealable issue before the Court. Judge Wettick referred specifically to the definition of “adjudication” set forth in the Local Agency Law, which states that an adjudication is any “… decision … affecting personal or property rights, privileges, immunities, duties, liabilities or obligations” of an individual. Judge Wettick held that the unsatisfactory rating and the pay freeze, it compelled did not affect the Plaintiff’s property rights because she was not automatically entitled to a salary increase under the contract, nor did any of the applicable laws provide for a right to a salary increase under the law. The Court noted that the School Code provides protection only for professional employees who are demoted either in pay or position, and noted that a salary freeze is neither a demotion in rank nor a reduction in pay. The Court reasoned that if denying the Plaintiff the highest pay raise set forth in the Act 93 Agreement constituted an “adjudication” or denial of property rights, then by extension, 25 of the District’s other 29 administrators who failed to receive the maximum amount of pay increase set forth in the Act 93 Agreement could similarly argue that they suffered a loss of property rights giving rise to a right of appeal.
In deciding that there had been no adjudication, the Court reviewed several other cases involving public employees claiming they had received an adjudication following the denial of some supposed benefit. In each such case, Pennsylvania appellate courts have consistently found that where there was no denial of a benefit promised or secured by statute there was no adjudication giving rise to an appeal under the Local Agency Law. Similarly, the Court reasoned that because the contingent salary increases set forth in the Act 93 Agreement under which the Plaintiff worked were not a legally protected right under applicable statutory law, the denial of that salary increase following an unsatisfactory evaluation did not constitute an adjudication, and thus the Plaintiff was not entitled to file an appeal under the Local Agency Law. The Court granted the preliminary objections of the School Board and District, and dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint.
The decision in the (Pulkowski) case makes clear that Act 93 employees do not enjoy rights superior to other professional employees, either by operation of the School Code or by reason of their status as administrators. Any additional rights which administrators may have are conferred to them by the particular contract or Act 93 Agreement under which they are employed.