Boards of education now have clarification as to what process governs the termination of a school janitor, regardless of whether tenure is achieved statutorily or by way of a contract.  The Appellate Division on May 8 published a decision (Christopher Luskey v. Carteret Board of Education) that unequivocally resolves the issue and finds that the statutory process of the New Jersey Commissioner of Education applies.

Luskey was a tenured janitor, and the board sought his termination based upon allegations of unbecoming conduct and insubordination. In challenging his termination, Luskey argued he obtained tenure through a labor contract, and, as such, his challenge must be heard by an arbitrator appointed by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), rather than one appointed by the Commissioner of Education.

Luskey failed in his attempt to have PERC appoint the arbitrator, and the arbitrator appointed through the Commissioner of Education upheld his termination.  The trial court affirmed the arbitrator’s decision, and the matter was appealed to the Appellate Division.

In affirming the trial court, the Appellate Division first found Luskey achieved tenure not only through the collective negotiations agreement, but also through statute.  The Appellate Division relied upon past decisions to hold contractually obtained tenure is no different from statutory tenure for disciplinary purposes.  The court reasoned tenure obtained through contract language “is one way of obtaining statutory tenure” protections.

The Appellate Division then addressed the issue of the arbitrator’s appointment and determined it did not matter whether tenure was achieved by statute or through contract language.  Indeed, the Appellate Division held that “[b]ecause a janitor who obtains tenure is subject to school laws with respect to that appointment, a dispute over his or her termination is subject to arbitration under the school laws.”  (N.J.S.A. 18A:6-9, et seq.)

In short, the Appellate Division eliminated any existing doubt about the termination of a tenured school janitor. The required procedure to resolve contested tenure charges against a school janitor is by way of arbitration conducted under the Commissioner of Education’s jurisdiction.