Ross v. Springfield School Dist. No. 19

Decision Date30 December 1982
Citation294 Or. 357,657 P.2d 188
Parties, 9 Ed. Law Rep. 709 Frank W. ROSS, Petitioner on Review, v. SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 19, Respondent on Review. CA 19038; SC 28590.
CourtOregon Supreme Court

Robert D. Durham, Eugene, argued the cause for petitioner on review. With him on the brief were Jennifer Friesen and Kulongoski, Heid, Durham & Drummonds, Eugene.

John C. Volmert, Springfield, argued the cause for respondent on review. With him on the brief were Merwin C. Logan and Wurtz, Logan & Logan, Springfield.

Oregon School Boards Ass'n filed a brief amicus curiae.

ROBERTS, Justice.

The Board of the Springfield School District dismissed petitioner, a permanent teacher of 19 years' employment with the district, on grounds of inefficiency, immorality and gross unfitness. Petitioner appealed to the Fair Dismissal Appeals Board (FDAB) by means of the procedure established in ORS 342.905.

After a hearing the FDAB found the facts relied upon by the school board in its dismissal to be true and that such facts supported the statutory grounds of immorality and gross unfitness. The FDAB dismissed the charge of inefficiency finding that the evidence to support the charge was "less than a scintilla." The FDAB reviewed the school board's dismissal on the other two grounds for unreasonableness or arbitrariness and, finding none, affirmed the dismissal.

The Court of Appeals upheld the FDAB decision. 56 Or.App. 197, 641 P.2d 600 (1982). It reasoned that under the dismissal statute the FDAB review function was limited. If the facts relied upon by the school board were true, the FDAB could reverse the school board decision only if the board acted unreasonably, arbitrarily or imposed a sanction which was clearly excessive. ORS 342.905(5). We review the decision of the FDAB pursuant to ORS 183.482(8). 1

This appeal presents for our consideration the two interrelated issues of the authority delegated by the legislature to local school boards and the FDAB to interpret and apply the statutory grounds for dismissal of a permanent teacher set forth in ORS 342.865, 2 and the proper interpretation to be given these terms. We begin with an overview of the Fair Dismissal Statutes. ORS 342.865-342.915 provide the method by which a permanent teacher, as defined in ORS 342.815(5), 3 may be dismissed. A recommendation for dismissal begins with the district superintendent. The statute specifies content and timeliness requirements the recommendation must meet in order to provide adequate notice to the teacher, the school board and the FDAB. The school board may then act on the recommendation. If it chooses to approve dismissal, the dismissal takes effect on the date of school board action or at a later date set by the board. Notice of the board's decision must be provided the teacher. Upon dismissal the teacher may appeal to the FDAB. In the event of appeal a three person panel of the FDAB holds a contested case hearing. The teacher is entitled to present any evidence relevant to the truth of the charges and the adequacy of the facts justifying the dismissal. Upon completion of the hearing the FDAB prepares a report of its findings and order which includes the panel's determination of the accuracy of the facts relied upon by the school board, incorporation of additional facts developed at the hearing, consideration of school board policies and standards of performance and, where the panel seeks to reverse the dismissal, specific reasons supporting its determination that the school board's action was arbitrary, unreasonable or a clearly excessive remedy. Either the school board or the teacher may seek judicial review of the FDAB decision.

The statutes under which the school boards and the FDAB operate define the roles of the agencies. ORS 342.895(1) provides: "Authority to dismiss a permanent teacher is vested in the district school board subject to the provisions of the fair dismissal procedures of ORS 342.805 to 342.955 and only after recommendation of the dismissal is given to the district school board by the superintendent." The procedure to which the school board's authority is subject is the FDAB appeal process. The authority of the FDAB on appeal is set forth in ORS 342.905(5). That statute in relevant part provides:

"When the Fair Dismissal Appeals Board panel has completed its hearing, it shall prepare a written report and send it to the permanent teacher, the district superintendent, the district school board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. [The Fair Dismissal Appeals Board panel shall determine whether the facts relied upon to support the statutory grounds cited for dismissal are true and substantiated. If the panel finds these facts true and substantiated, it shall then consider whether such facts, in light of all the circumstances and additional facts developed at the hearing that are relevant to the statutory standards in ORS 342.865(1), are adequate to justify the statutory grounds cited. In making such determination, the panel shall consider all reasonable written rules, policies and standards of performance adopted by the school district board unless it finds that such rules, policies and standards have been so inconsistently applied as to amount to arbitrariness. The panel shall not reverse the dismissal if it finds the facts relied upon are true and substantiated unless it determines, in light of all the evidence and for reasons stated with specificity in its findings and order, that the dismissal was unreasonable, arbitrary or clearly an excessive remedy.] * * * " (Brackets added to indicate 1979 amendments discussed infra.)

No hearing is required at the school board level. The contested case hearing conducted by the FDAB presents a dismissed teacher with the first opportunity to rebut the facts and charges brought by the district superintendent and approved by the school board. One of the FDAB's "review" functions is that of primary fact-finder. If the FDAB finds the allegations untrue or unsubstantiated the teacher must be reinstated. ORS 342.905(6)(a). 4

The issue presented by this case is the scope of the FDAB review function in the event the panel finds the facts true and substantiated. Petitioner contends that in this regard the statute lodges with the FDAB responsibility to interpret and apply the statutory grounds for dismissal set forth in ORS 342.865(1). Respondent school district asserts that such power was delegated to local school boards, subject to review by the FDAB only for factual accuracy and unreasonable, arbitrary, or excessive school board action.

Respondents rely on the 1979 amendment to ORS 342.905(5), in brackets, supra. They read the "unreasonable, arbitrary or clearly an excessive remedy" language as a limitation on FDAB power both to reverse a dismissal sanction and to determine whether petitioner's conduct constitutes the grounds cited. Under this analysis school boards, not the FDAB, are empowered to apply the statutory terms to particular facts and the FDAB cannot reach a contrary interpretation of the standards without first finding the school board interpretation arbitrary, unreasonable or excessive.

We do not find the amendment so all encompassing. Both before and after the amendment the FDAB remains the agency responsible for interpreting the statute. The unchanged statutory mandate that the FDAB consider whether the "facts * * * are adequate to justify the statutory grounds cited" compels this conclusion. 5 The amendment serves to clarify that while the FDAB interprets the statute, this interpretive authority does not permit the FDAB to assess the propriety of the sanction imposed by the school board beyond determining if it is arbitrary, unreasonable or excessive. Where the FDAB finds both that the facts surrounding the teacher's conduct are true and substantiated, and that the facts adequately justify the statutory grounds cited, the school board decision on the dismissal sanction, unless arbitrary, unreasonable or excessive, must stand.

We find little support in the history of the legislation for a contrary interpretation. It is apparent that the decision in Lincoln County School District v. Mayer, 39 Or.App. 99, 591 P.2d 755 rev. den. 287 Or. 215 (1979), relied on by the Court of Appeals in this case, provided the impetus during the 1979 legislative session for a reevaluation of the role of the FDAB relative to the school board in dismissal appeals. Mayer reinstated the Lincoln County school board's decision to dismiss a permanent teacher on the grounds of inefficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty and inadequate performance. The FDAB had reversed the dismissal. Though finding the facts charged to be true and indicating that the facts justified the grounds for dismissal the FDAB disagreed with the school board that the teacher should be dismissed. Mayer interpreted the Fair Dismissal statutes to mean that the FDAB is empowered to conduct a "de novo " review of the facts but, so long as the facts justify the grounds cited for dismissal that agency may engage in only deferential review of the school board's judgment concerning the dismissal sanction. "[I]t is not for FDAB to determine whether it would dismiss the teacher, but whether there is some evidence to justify the 'grounds cited as reasons,' not the dismissal itself." 39 Or.App. at 106, 591 P.2d 755.

There can be no question that the legislators were apprised of the Mayer decision. Many of the committee debates centered upon its impact on the review function of the FDAB. Hearings on Senate Bill 446 before the Senate Committee on Education, May 15, 22, June 4, 12, 1979; and before the House Committee on Education June 23, 27, 28, 1979. We do not read the legislative history or the amendment that resulted as other than a codification of the Mayer decision. We agree with the observation of the Court of Appeals that...

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