624 P.2d 530 (N.M. 1981), 13237, New Mexico State Bd. of Ed. v. Board of Ed. of Alamogordo Public School Dist. 1

Docket Nº:13237, 13238.
Citation:624 P.2d 530, 95 N.M. 588, 1981 -NMSC- 031
Opinion Judge:[11] Easley
Party Name:NEW MEXICO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Petitioner, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALAMOGORDO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Respondent. Sharon BRYANT, Petitioner, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALAMOGORDO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Respondent.
Attorney:Jeff Bingaman, Atty. Gen., John F. Kennedy, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for State Bd. of Ed., Jones, Gallegos, Snead & Wertheim, Steven L. Tucker, Santa Fe, for Sharon Bryant., Overstreet & Sandenaw, S. Thomas Overstreet, Alamogordo, for Bd. of Ed. Alamogordo Public School Dist. No. 1. [7] Jeff ...
Judge Panel:SOSA, Senior Justice, and PAYNE, FEDERICI and RIORDAN, JJ., concur.
Case Date:February 25, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of New Mexico

Page 530

624 P.2d 530 (N.M. 1981)

95 N.M. 588, 1981 -NMSC- 031

NEW MEXICO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Petitioner,

v.

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALAMOGORDO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Respondent.

Sharon BRYANT, Petitioner,

v.

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALAMOGORDO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Respondent.

No. 13237, 13238.

Supreme Court of New Mexico

February 25, 1981

Page 531

[95 N.M. 589] Jeff Bingaman, Atty. Gen., John F. Kennedy, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for State Bd. of Ed.

Jones, Gallegos, Snead & Wertheim, Steven L. Tucker, Santa Fe, for Sharon Bryant.

Overstreet & Sandenaw, S. Thomas Overstreet, Alamogordo, for Bd. of Ed. Alamogordo Public School Dist. No. 1.

OPINION

EASLEY, Chief Justice.

Sharon Bryant was terminated by the Alamogordo School Board (Local Board). The sole reason given was that her father was elected as a member of the Local Board and that Board ruled that her retention is prohibited by Section 22-5-6, N.M.S.A. 1978, the anti-nepotism law. She appealed the decision to the New Mexico State Board of Education (State Board), which reversed the decision of the Local Board. The Local Board appealed the decision of the State Board to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the State Board's decision. We granted certiorari and reverse the Court of Appeals, upholding the decision of the State Board in favor of Bryant.

The dispositive issue is whether Section 22-5-6 prohibits the continued employment of a tenured teacher whose relative is elected to the school board, or whether the section relates only to the initial hiring of a teacher whose relative is a member of the board. Bryant also raises issues concerning the constitutionality of her termination. However, in view of our disposition of the central issue in this case we find it unnecessary to consider the constitutional issues.

Bryant was first employed for the 1975-76 school year, at which time she was not related to any member of the Local Board. After teaching for three years she acquired tenure upon the execution of her 1978-79 employment contract. Her father, desiring to seek election to the Local Board, contacted an assistant attorney general for the State Department of Education for an opinion as to whether his election would affect the continued employment in the school district of members of his family. He was advised that the nepotism statute had been interpreted not to affect those persons already employed by a local school district at the time a relative is elected to the board. The Local Board also requested an opinion and received the same answer. Bryant's father was elected to the Local Board and assumed office in March 1979. Although she had caused no trouble whatsoever, had received high marks for her performance as a teacher and was recommended for reemployment by the Local Board's superintendent, her contract was not renewed for the 1979-80 school year. The only reason given for the failure to renew her contract was [95 N.M. 590]

Page 532

that her relationship to a member of the Local Board constituted a violation of the nepotism statute.

The record in this case shows that the Attorney General's office has consistently interpreted the statute to apply only to the initial hiring of teachers and that there has been widespread reliance upon this interpretation of the statute by school boards throughout the state. The evidence includes eleven letters written between 1972 and 1979 from the Attorney General's office to various persons who inquired about the proper interpretation of the statute. The letters uniformly interpret...

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