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Decision No. 13,960

Appeal of WILLIAM C. PRATTELLA from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Mount Vernon regarding a superintendent contract.

Decision No. 13,960

(June 15, 1998)

 

Aiello & Cannick, attorneys for respondent, Devereaux L. Cannick, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner, Superintendent of the City School District of the City of Mount Vernon ("the district") challenges actions of the district’s board of education ("respondent") rescinding the extension of his contract. The appeal must be sustained.

On June 12, 1997, respondent approved resolution 97-201, which provided in pertinent part:

That the appointment of Dr. William C. Prattella as Superintendent of Schools of the City School District of Mount Vernon, New York, is hereby extended to June 30, 2000.

A contract dated June 17, 1997 and signed by petitioner and respondent's president indicates that "[t]he Superintendent's continued appointment, in terms of the Contract, shall commence on July 1, 1997 and shall extend for a period of three years, ending June 30, 2000." On July 1, 1997, respondent approved a resolution rescinding petitioner's contract extension. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner contends that during his 25 years as Superintendent of respondent's school district he has served under a written contract. He maintains that his contract and its extension are valid and asks me to order the board to withdraw its motion rescinding it.

Respondent contends that under Education Law ' 2507 a board of a small city school district may not enter into a written contract with a superintendent, thereby making both the contract and its extension invalid. Respondent also contends that the June 12, 1997 actions of the previous board were contrary to public policy -- that New York courts have held that municipal and governmental boards are not able to bind their successors to long-term contractual provisions.

As enacted in 1950, Education Law ' 2507(1) provided:

The superintendent and any associate superintendent of schools in each [small city] school district shall hold his position subject to the pleasure of the board of education, except that the superintendent of schools may be appointed for a term of not to exceed five years.

With respect to the authority of a board of a city school district to contract with its superintendent, the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, stated "[t]he little case law that exists on this subject . . . is at odds" (Courtemanche v. Enlarged City School Dist. of the City of Middletown, 686 F. Supp. 1025). In 1964, the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, held that a board of education of a city school district does not have the authority to enter into a written contract for services with a superintendent of schools (Smith v. Helbraun, 21 AD2d 829). In 1976, the Fourth Department reached the same conclusion (Downey v. Lackawanna City School Dist., 51 AD2d 177). However, in 1977, the Third Department affirmed a Commissioner's decision which held that the terms and conditions of a superintendent's employment, other than its duration, may be the subject of a contract between the superintendent and the board of education (Matter of Brewster, 18 Ed Dept Rep 108, aff'd sub nom., Little Falls City School Dist. v. Ambach, 68 AD2d 995, appeal denied, 47 NY2d 711, rearg. denied, 48 NY2d 656). In Courtemanche, the District Court, interpreting New York law, held that the superintendent's contract in question was not per se invalid as ultra vires and that "[t]o the extent the contract is not inconsistent with other statutory conditions, it should be given force" (Courtemanche at 1031).

In 1995, a clause was added to " 2507 providing:

[T]he terms or provisions of any employment contract between the superintendent and the board of education relating to an increase in salary, compensation or other benefits, shall not be based on or tied to the terms of any contract or collective bargaining agreement that the board of education has or will enter with the teachers or other employees of the school district (emphasis added).

There is no indication in its legislative history that the amendment was intended to empower the board of a small city school district to contract where it previously did not have the power. Yet, there is now an implied authority for such a board to contract with a superintendent, at least with regard to salary and benefits.

However, in the instant case, I need not reach the question of the validity of petitioner’s contract provisions. When a board retains a superintendent for a multi-year term, it is considered to constitute an appointment under ' 2507, and his services may only be terminated for cause and in accordance with the requirements of procedural due process (Matter of Brewster, 15 Ed Dept Rep 526; Matter of Smith, 1 id. 536). Therefore, whether or not the duration of petitioner's term was a valid contract provision, he was appointed to a multi-year term pursuant to ' 2507 and respondent's rescission of that appointment was invalid.

Respondent also argues that the extension of petitioner’s appointment was contrary to public policy. There is venerable authority for the proposition that municipal and governmental boards should not be able to bind their successors to long-term contractual provisions (Abrams v. Horton, 18 AD 208; Connelly v. Commissioner, 32 Misc. 489; Vacheron v. City of New York, 34 Misc. 420; Mack v. Mayor, 37 Misc. 371), and the principle has been applied to school districts (Ferkin v. Board of Educ., 253 AD 751, rev'd on other grounds, 278 NY 263; Harrison Central School Dist. v Nyquist, 83 Misc. 2d 1042, aff'd, 59 AD2d 434). However, the courts have long recognized an exception where a specific statutory provision authorizes a long-term arrangement (see, e.g., Murphy v. Erie County, 60 Misc. 2d 954, 34 AD2d 295, 28 NY2d 80). Education Law ' 2507(1) is such a provision. Indeed, every time a board makes a multi-year appointment pursuant to that provision, it necessarily binds successor boards.

While I am constrained to recognize the legality of the eleventh hour extension voted by the former board in this matter, I do not endorse the wisdom of its action, which does not inspire voter confidence in school officials.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that petitioner's appointment is in effect through June 30, 2000.

END OF FILE