Brown v. Board of Educ., Unified School Dist. No. 333, Cloud County

Decision Date06 December 1996
Docket NumberNo. 75788,75788
Citation261 Kan. 134,928 P.2d 57
Parties, 114 Ed. Law Rep. 1221 Barbara M. BROWN, Appellee, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 333, CLOUD COUNTY, Kansas, Appellant.
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. In Kansas, the general rule is that absent a contract between the employer and employee providing otherwise, an employee has no right to continued employment, and either party may terminate the employment relationship without cause.

2. Where by contract or by statute employment by a governmental entity continues until the employer shows "cause" for terminating the employment, discontinuing employment requires that the employer meet an explicitly defined legal standard and that the employee be given a due process hearing, bringing the action into the realm of a quasi-judicial decision.

3. An administrator who has been employed by a school district for at least 2 consecutive years, and thus is entitled to the protections of the Kansas Administrators' Act, can be nonrenewed without a showing of good cause.

4. The term quasi-judicial, used to describe the nature of the decision-making process required by statute or constitutional due process, is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Any rights a party to a school board decision-making process may have to certain procedures come not from the label applied to the decision-making power the board uses, but from a statute imposing certain procedures or the Due Process Clause.

5. Constitutional procedural due process analysis is a two-step process in which the court first determines whether due process is even implicated, and, if it is, then determines what process is due. At the first level, the claimant must establish some property or liberty interest such that the protections of the Due Process Clause are invoked. This property or liberty interest is not inherent in the Due Process Clause but must be rooted in state law.

6. A school administrator's expectation of continued employment created by the Kansas Administrators' Act consists of the right to automatic renewal of the administrator's contract if the school board fails to meet the deadline for notifying the administrator of its intent not to renew the contract. The purpose of such a provision is to permit the administrator time to secure other employment. This is similar to the property interest held by nontenured teachers in contract renewal and is insufficient to require a hearing or other protective process.

7. The Kansas Administrators' Act gives to a nonrenewed school administrator entitled to its protections a procedural right to a meeting with the school board in executive session, a statement of reasons for nonrenewal, and an opportunity for the administrator to respond. These state law procedural rights do not invoke the protections of the Due Process Clause.

8. Where the contract of a school administrator is nonrenewed based on the fact the administrator was inefficient and his or her performance was unsatisfactory, the school board does not act contrary to K.S.A. 72-9003(d)(1) by failing to conduct a performance evaluation prior to giving notice of nonrenewal.

9. K.S.A. 72-9004(f) limits a school board's power to nonrenew an employee's contract only when the reason given for nonrenewal is incompetence.

10. K.S.A. 60-2101(d) confers jurisdiction to review the action of a political subdivision only where it is exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions.

11. Personnel decisions may be executive in nature rather than quasi-judicial, especially when they can be made without regard to any measurable standards, as in employment-at-will cases.

12. An administrative agency or political subdivision may exercise powers that partake of the character of the powers exercised by any of the principal three branches of government.

13. In overseeing and managing its internal operations, an administrative agency or political subdivision may act in an executive or administrative capacity. In looking to the future and changing existing conditions by making a new rule to be applied thereafter within some area of its power, the agency or political subdivision exercises a legislative function. Judicial functions performed by administrative agencies or political subdivisions are those with which a court might have been charged in the first instance or functions courts have historically performed or did perform prior to the creation of the administrative body. A function that is not a true judicial function may nevertheless be quasi-judicial if it involves a discretionary act of a judicial nature taken by a body empowered to investigate facts, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions as a basis for official actions.

14. The meeting between a school administrator and the school board in which the board reviews a decision to nonrenew the administrator's contract is not of a quasi-judicial nature because it lacks substantive standards upon which judicial-type decisions are based. Therefore, it is not a quasi-judicial act, and there is no jurisdiction for judicial review under K.S.A. 60-2101(d).

Fred W. Rausch, Jr., Topeka, argued the cause, and Larry S. Vernon, of Vernon, Retter & Long, Concordia, was on the briefs, for appellant.

Terry D. Criss, of Hampton, Royce, Engleman & Nelson, L.C., Salina, argued the cause and was on the brief, for appellee.

LARSON, Justice:

This is an appeal by the Board of Education, Unified School District No. 333 (Board), from the district court's review of its decision not to renew the contract of administrator Barbara M. Brown.

The basic facts are not in dispute, and the uncontested record shows the following:

Brown was initially employed as the principal of Washington Elementary School and Concordia Middle School for the 1991-1992 school year. In each of the ensuing 3 school years, 1992-1993, 1993-1994, and 1994-1995, her contract was renewed.

On March 13, 1995, the Board adopted a resolution directing that Brown be notified of the Board's intent not to renew her contract of employment for the 1995-96 school year. Brown received this notice on the following day and on March 23, 1995, requested a meeting with the Board in executive session concerning the nonrenewal of her contract, pursuant to K.S.A. 72-5453.

On March 30, 1995, within the time required by K.S.A. 72-5453(b), the Board met with Brown in executive session. At this meeting, the Board provided Brown with the following document informing Brown of its decision not to renew her contract:

"Barbara M. Brown has not shown consistent organizational and instructional leadership skills at the Concordia Middle School and the Washington Elementary School. This has created a lack of support and trust among the staff. This has also created a void at Washington Elementary School and Concordia Middle School in developing innovative and visionary leadership to best serve staff and students in our district."

Brown was given the opportunity to respondto the Board's statement. She defended her performance to the Board, reviewed her performance evaluations, and explained how she had responded to shortcomings in those evaluations in the past. The Board permitted her to make her presentation, but did not question her or respond. Neither party had legal counsel present. A record was not taken of the meeting.

In a resolution adopted the same day and made a part of the Board minutes, the Board recounted that after Brown's presentation it "thoroughly discussed and reconsidered its reasons for nonrenewal" and decided not to renew Brown's contract for the 1995-96 school year.

Brown timely appealed the Board's decision to the district court and joined certain causes of action in tort. The district court bifurcated the tort claims from the appeal and resolved the appeal in the case now before us.

The district court found that Brown was denied due process because the Board did not show good cause for the nonrenewal of her contract, the Board's action was arbitrary and it was not supported by substantial evidence, and the Board's reasons were too conclusory, thereby preventing meaningful judicial review of the substantive grounds of the Board's decision.

The district court certified its order concerning the review of the Board's decision as a final appealable order pursuant to K.S.A. 60-254 and K.S.A. 60-2102(b). The Board appealed.

Subsequent to argument to this court we asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the following additional questions:

(1) Is the "meeting" that a nonrenewed principal is granted with the Board of Education under K.S.A. 72-5453 a quasi-judicial act allowing judicial review under K.S.A. 60-2101(d)?

(2) Should the Court of Appeals' decision in Allen v. U.S.D. No. 436, 19 Kan.App.2d 873, 878 P.2d 223 (1994), be disapproved?

Standard of Review:

The present review of the Board's action was taken pursuant to K.S.A. 60-2101(d). This statute confers jurisdiction to review the action of a political subdivision only where it is exercising "judicial or quasi-judicial functions." If a school board is acting in such a capacity, the district court is limited to determining if the Board's decision was within its scope of authority, whether it was substantially supported by evidence, and whether it was fraudulent, arbitrary, or capricious. Butler v. U.S.D. No. 440, 244 Kan. 458, 463, 769 P.2d 651 (1989). On appeal from the district court, we review the Board's decision as though the initial appeal had been purported to have been made directly to us. We are to employ the same standard of review as the district court if the Board's decision is a judicial or quasi-judicial function. However, if the Board's decision is not a judicial or quasi-judicial function, K.S.A. 60-2101(d) grants no right of appeal.

Issues on appeal:

Brown maintains the Board's decision must be reversed because it was beyond the Board's authority in that the Board "failed to act in a...

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