On June 25, 2018, in a non-precedential decision, Richardson v. Gangadin, the Appellate Division clarified that boards of education are required to provide superintendents with “an affirmative, timely declaration of non-renewal in writing.” In this matter, the superintendent was hired in 2012 and entered into a four-year employment contract ending on June 30, 2016.  The employment contract stated that the board’s failure to inform her of its intent to renew her contract by Dec. 31, 2015 meant that renewal was not being offered. However, despite the contractual language, N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1 specifically provides for the automatic reappointment of a superintendent unless the board notifies the superintendent in writing that he or she will not be reappointed.

The court noted that although the board attorney advised the board in December 2015 of the deadline to give notice of non-renewal, the board took no action. On March 14, 2016, a petition was filed with the commissioner of education challenging the superintendent’s continued employment. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended dismissal of the petitions and the commissioner adopted the ALJ’s findings and decision.

Before the Appellate Division, petitioners argued the specific notice provisions in the superintendent’s contract prohibited automatic renewal. However, the court noted that public employees and their employers could not agree to contractual terms that violated a specific term or condition of employment set by a law. The superintendent’s contract spanned four years and the applicable statutory formula required the board to provide her with written notice of non-renewal by March 2, 2016. The board did not do so and the Appellate Division concluded that her contract renewed by operation of law.

Board members are encouraged to discuss this matter with their board attorney.

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