Seyfang v. Board of Trustees of Washakie County School Dist. No. 1

Decision Date05 May 1977
Docket NumberNos. 4679,4680,s. 4679
Citation563 P.2d 1376
PartiesIn the Matter of John H. Seyfang III, Contestant. John H. SEYFANG, III, Appellant (Contestant below), v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF WASHAKIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Appellee(Respondent below). BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF WASHAKIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Appellant(Respondent below), v. John H. SEYFANG, III, Appellee (Contestant below).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Elmer J. Scott, of Scott & Shelledy, Worland, for John H. Seyfang III.

John W. Davis, Worland, for Bd. of Trustees.

Before GUTHRIE, C. J., and McCLINTOCK, RAPER, THOMAS and ROSE, JJ.

ROSE, Justice.

This proceeding involves appeals by both parties from a judgment entered in the district court, which appeals were consolidated for the purpose of argument.

The issues are presented for our consideration through questions raised by an order of the district court which dismissed the appeal of John H. Seyfang III, for want of jurisdiction. The case came to the district court's attention upon appeal from an order of the Board of Trustees of Washakie County School District No. 1, terminating Seyfang's contract of employment as superintendent of schools for the school district.

The district court's order, which holds that a superintendent of schools is not a teacher and which dismisses Seyfang's appeal will be affirmed.

John H. Seyfang III was employed as superintendent of schools for the school district for ten years. On February 13, 1975, he received a notice of recommendation of termination, whereupon he requested a hearing pursuant to § 21.1-158, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp. 1 A notice of hearing was given on February 20, 1975, with the hearing scheduled for March 11, 1975. Mr. Ross Copenhaver was designated by the Board to be the hearing examiner. On March 1, 1975, Seyfang requested a bill of particulars with respect to the reasons for the recommendation of termination and asked for a new hearing date. The hearing examiner directed the Board's attorney to supply Seyfang with a list of witnesses and a summary of their expected testimony, but did not change the hearing date. On March 8, 1975, the witness list and summary of testimony were provided. On March 10, 1975, Seyfang received affidavits representing the direct testimony of five Board members. Later on the same day, a prehearing conference was held at which time Seyfang made a motion for a continuance to March 19, 1975, which was denied. At the commencement of the hearing, the Board's attorney entered a general objection to the proceeding on the ground that 'the Continuing Contract Law ('Wyoming Teacher Employment Law,' §§ 21.1-151-21.1-164, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp.) is not in fact applicable to superintendents,' but indicated that the Board would 'proceed herein in all good faith that the Continuing Contract Law is applicable.' On April 22, 1975, the Board decided that Seyfang's contract should be terminated effective June 30, 1975.

Seyfang appealed this decision to the district court pursuant to the judicial review provisions of § 9-276.32, W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp. 2 On February 20, 1976, the following order was entered:

'JUDGMENT AND ORDER

'THIS MATTER having come on for hearing on the 4th day of February, 1976, at the Washakie County Courthouse, Worland, Wyoming, the Contestant being represented by Elmer J. Scott, Washakie County School District No. 1 being represented by John W. Davis, the parties having submitted briefs and the Court having heard the arguments and cited authorities of the parties, and being fully advised in the premises, FINDS:

'1. The Board of Trustees of Washakie County School District No. 1 acted as Judge, Jury, Prosecuting Attorney, and Primary Witnesses against the Contestant, and under those circumstances, the Contestant could not have received a fair and impartial hearing. For this reason the decision of said Board of Trustees in terminating the contract of Contestant was arbitrary and capricious.

'2. That the Wyoming Teacher Employment Law (§ 21.1-151 to 21.1-164, W.S.1957) is not applicable to superintendents of school districts and this Court therefore has no jurisdiction in this matter.

'WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the appeal of Contestant from the decision of the Washakie County School District Number One be dismissed but, in the alternative, if the Wyoming Supreme Court shall find that the Wyoming Teacher Employment Law is applicable to superintendents, then it is the JUDGMENT of this Court that the decision of the Board of Trustees of Washakie County School District Number One in terminating the contract of the Contestant was arbitrary and capricious and the action of said Board shall be set aside.

DONE this 19th day of February, 1976.

's/ Paul T. Liamos, Jr.

'Paul T. Liamos, District Judge'

Seyfang appeals from that portion of the order which dismissed his administrative appeal, and the Board appeals from that portion which alternatively held its decision to terminate Seyfang to be arbitrary and capricious due to a lack of fair and impartial hearing. Since we find that a superintendent of schools is not protected by the Wyoming Teacher Employment Law and, therefore, in that respect, uphold the decision of the district court, it will be unnecessary to consider any other issue. The critical question for our consideration is, then, whether a school superintendent falls within the definition of 'teacher,' set forth in § 21.1-152(g), W.S.1957, 1975 Cum.Supp., as follows:

'Any person employed under contract by the board of trustees of a school district as a certified professional employee.' (Emphasis supplied)

If a superintendent does not come within this definition, he or she is not entitled to tenure under Wyoming law.

BACKGROUND

Other jurisdictions have previously been faced with this question, but their answers differ due to variation in the statutes themselves-in statutory construction and in legislative history. 3 For instance, in McNely v. Board of Education, 9 Ill.2d 143, 137 N.E.2d 63, 66 (1956), the Illinois Supreme Court held that a superintendent of schools was a 'teacher,' defined in the Illinois Teacher Tenure Law as

"any or all school district employees regularly required to be certified under laws relating to the certification of teachers * * *."

The court utilized a statutory analysis, commenting that while certain parts of the tenure law referred expressly to superintendents, the only proper inquiry was whether a superintendent was required to be certified. 4 Recognizing that 'teaching' and 'supervising' involved distinctive functions, the court observed that the legislature had chosen to define 'teacher' without regard to its common meaning. Finally, the court stated:

'. . . We recognize that this subsequent legislation does not afford proof of prior status of the law; but the force of the long continued administrative construction of the school law requiring the certification of superintendents and public acquiescence therein, coupled with the later statutory enactment in conformity thereto, leaves us with the inevitable conclusion that superintendents are, under present law, and were under prior law, 'teachers' within the definition of the Teacher Tenure Law. Our decision in this respect finds support in other jurisdictions. State ex rel. Frank v. Meigs County Board of Education, 140 Ohio St. 381, 44 N.E.2d 455; School City of LaFayette v. Highley, 213 Ind. 369, 12 N.E.2d 927; Gallardo v. Gonzalez, 1 Cir., 143 F.2d 947. Nothing said in Eelkema v. Board of Education, 215 Minn. 590, 11 N.W.2d 76, militates against this conclusion. The Minnesota court was there interpreting unlike statutory language in a different historical setting.' Ibid., p. 68.

A strong dissent was registered in McNely, wherein the dissenter said, at 137 N.E.2d 70:

'. . . In the absence of specific statutory direction, supervisory and administrative officers of a school district should not, by a process of judicial construction, be brought within the coverage of provisions in terms applicable only to teachers. Both in law and in practice such positions constitute a class distinct from that of a teacher. . . .'

'The legislature may wish at some future time to bring superintendents within the application of tenure provisions. But, on the other hand, there are reasons why it may not wish to do so. As representatives of the people, the board of education is the body charged with the primary responsibility in forming educational policy and supervising school administration. In order for the board to discharge these responsibilities and be responsive to the wishes of the electorate, it would seem essential that they have the right to choose, in their discretion, the district's chief executive officer. Otherwise, the board would have duties but lack the necessary means of fulfilling them.'

The Supreme Court of New Mexico also held that a superintendent is a 'teacher' within its Teachers' Tenure Act's provisions. Vigil v. Barela, 71 N.M. 213, 377 P.2d 515, 519 (1962). Relying again on a statutory analysis, the court concluded that since a superintendent must be certified as qualified to teach, he is a 'teacher' within the meaning and contemplation of the tenure law.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, in Irish v. Collins, 82 R.I. 348, 107 A.2d 455 (1954), 5 held that a superintendent is not a 'teacher' within the teacher's tenure act. 'Teacher' therein was defined as

". . . every person for whose position a certificate issued by the state department of education is required by law." Ibid., p. 457.

The court observed, at 107 A.2d 457:

'It is contended that since a certificate is required to be issued for every person occupying the position of superintendent, that a superintendent as such is included in this definition. This argument would appear at first blush to be quite plausible. However, the intent of the act must be determined not from one section thereof but from the whole...

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