In a matter reported in the Sept. 4 School Board Notes, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division overturned sections of a teachers’ union contract that allowed two teachers to collect their full salaries and benefits when they did not perform any teaching duties and instead performed only union business.

Originally, two taxpayers brought suit in a lower court, asserting that no statute allows a school board to pay teachers to spend their entire professional workday conducting union business, while being paid full-time salary and benefits by the district. The lower court disagreed with the plaintiffs and stated that such full time union leave was needed to facilitate the collective negotiations process, and to keep labor peace in the district.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the Law Division and held that full-time union release by district personnel at the district’s expense amounted to a gift of public funds and was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money under the New Jersey constitution, which prohibits the grant of taxpayer money to any society, association or corporation.  Additionally the Appellate Division held that full-time union release conferred no benefit upon the school district.

On Jan. 31, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted the education association’s petition for certification, meaning that they are expected to hear the appeal sometime in the current court calendar.  No date for oral argument has been set as of this writing.  Upon hearing the appeal, the Supreme Court justices can affirm or reverse all or part of the Appellate Division’s decision or remand the matter back for further action.

As such, the Appellate Division decision is the current state of the law. However, this could change in the coming months. Additionally, the court may provide more guidance on partial union release wherein the union member/employee performs at least some teaching duties during the day or whether contract terms requiring the union to reimburse the district for payment of salaries for union leave may be deemed acceptable. Stay tuned.

Districts are encouraged to review this decision with their board attorney. For additional information, you may contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.