Act 93 Legal Landmark Case

“Commonwealth Court held that a plan adopted after meet and discuss is binding once adopted for the life of the plan. This is a landmark decision for principals, assistant principals and supervisors.”

Donna Weldon, PA Principals Association Chief Counsel – May 16, 1994.
On May 4, 1994, the case of Curley v. Board of School Directors of the Greater Johnstown School District was decided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. Curley confirms the arguments that the Associations have made regarding the meaning of Act 93. Most importantly, the Commonwealth Court held that a plan adopted after meet and discuss is binding once adopted for the life of the plan. The Court commented that one of the objectives of the General Assembly was to eliminate the administrators’ insecurity over compensation matters. The Court reasoned a non-binding plan would do little to eliminate insecurity and, therefore, would be contrary to the legislative intent. Next, the Court cited the specific language that school employers are required to adopt a written compensation plan “which shall continue in effect until a time specified in the compensation plan but in no event for less than one school year.” (24P.S.11-1164)

The Greater Johnstown School District tried to exclude school psychologists by amending a plan in 1991 that was originally adopted for the period of July 1, 1989 through June 30, 1993. In 1991, the School District unilaterally altered the definition of “administrator” to exclude eight previously included positions. Curley, a school psychologist, was informed that his salary and benefits would now be determined by the teachers’ contract. The Court concluded that Curley was entitled to the terms of the 1989 plan and to its additional compensation because the District was bound by the provisions of the 1989 plan during the entire period in which the plan is in effect.

Although the Court conceded that a “meet and discuss session” was not a collective bargaining session, it refused to accept the Board’s argument that it may change at any time the terms or conditions of the Act 93 plan during the life of that plan. The Court explicitly rejected the Board’s assertion that it has unlimited prerogative so long as it engages in good faith in a meet and discuss session. The Court concluded that the Board’s erroneous assertion was a misapplication of case law interpreting meet and discuss sessions under Act 195. The Court concluded that meet and discuss sessions under Act 93 are advisory and are not bargaining sessions, but that they are a prerequisite of the adoption of a mandatory written Act 93 plan which continues in effect until a time specified in the compensation plan. In comparing meet and discuss sessions under Act 195 and Act 93, the Court concluded that they are entirely different context: Act 93 is to formulate a compensation plan which will remain in effect for the life of the plan, and Act 195 is to discuss issues and air grievances.

A secondary issue in Curley was whether an employee must be at least a first level supervisor to be included in the plan. The Commonwealth Court held that it is fallacious to equate supervisors with administrators. It once again rejected the Board’s argument trying to superimpose Act 195 on Act 93 by holding that the definition of supervisor in Act 195 in the context of collective bargaining is inapplicable to Act 93. In determining eligibility for an Act 93 plan, the Court concluded that there is no reason to draw a line between supervisor and non-supervisory personnel. Having supervisory responsibilities is not a criterion used to establish eligibility for inclusion in a plan.

Under Act 195, the first level supervisors were not given the right to negotiate contracts, collective bargain or strike, but public employers were required to meet and discuss with units of first level supervisors. Management level employees were excluded from participation in any labor bargaining unit. Case law construing Act 195 held that school principals and assistant principals were management level employees excluded from even meet and discuss under Act 195. Employees of Carlynton School District v. Carlynton School District, 31 Pa.Commw.Ct. 631, 377 A.2nd. 1033 (1977). Under Act 195, Carlynton excluded the largest group of first level supervisors in school systems, that is, principals and assistant principals, and made them ineligible to form separate meet and discuss bargaining units because they were management.

The Commonwealth Court decided that the only reason that Act 93 mentioned first level supervisors was toinsure that principals, who were excluded from meet and discuss units, under Act 195 would clearly be included in the meet and discuss sessions under Act 93.