During the 2018-2019 school year, the Madison Board of Education learned that a teacher was failing to perform his instructional duties and determined to withhold his increment for the subsequent school year. In defense of the teacher, the Madison Education Association filed a grievance seeking binding arbitration; in response, the board filed a scope of negotiations petition before the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) seeking to restrain arbitration. PERC’s decision to require binding arbitration, despite several acknowledged deficiencies, involved several factors that are important to boards of education across the state.

In this matter, In the Matter of the Madison Board of Education and the Madison Education Association (P.E.R.C. NO. 2020-58 ), after numerous complaints were received about the teacher, administration conducted an investigation where it learned that during the prior two years, and despite the successful completion of a corrective action plan, parents and students continued to raise concerns regarding deficiencies in the grievant’s instructional practices, teaching skills and classroom management.

Specifically, the board learned that the teacher left his classroom on multiple occasions in order to take private phone calls, leaving the classroom unattended and failing to provide instruction during those times. Further, instead of properly managing instructional time, the teacher accepted a wager and proceeded to wrestle a student. Based on these and other events, the board determined that the teacher failed to maintain a proper educational environment as the evaluative basis for withholding the teacher’s increment.

In issuing a decision, PERC noted that according to N.J.S.A. 34:13A-26, et seq., all increment withholdings of teaching staff members may be submitted to binding arbitration except those based predominately on the evaluation of teaching performance.

Accordingly, if a withholding is issued for predominantly disciplinary reasons, it must be submitted to arbitration. Increment withholdings that are based on evaluative reasons are referred to the commissioner of education. Though there are exceptions, in general, the commissioner of education is regarded as being more sympathetic to boards of education.

The question then before PERC was whether the board’s withholding was issued predominantly for evaluative reasons. In making that determination, PERC turned to the statement of reasons issued to the teacher at the time the increment was withheld. Accepting the board’s facts as true, PERC held that leaving students unattended or unsupervised does not always implicate teaching performance and further noted that concerns identified in the board’s statement of reasons were not detailed in the teacher’s prior summative evaluations, disciplinary memos, or classroom observation reports. Accordingly, PERC concluded that the basis for the increment withholding was predominately disciplinary, and ordered the dispute to be resolved through the parties’ grievance procedure, which required binding arbitration.

For more information on this matter, board members are encouraged to consult the board attorney or call the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.