The Professional Association of Georgia Educators said today that it will end its legal quest to compel the state to pay stipends to National Board Certified Teachers after the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.
On the 2010 session’s final day, the General Assembly passed a budget that eliminated pay supplements to more than 2,000 educators who earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The General Assembly’s decision amounted to a $6,000 to $8,000 hit for some of the state’s top teachers.
National board-certified teachers have long received a 10 percent salary supplement, but that was cut in half in 2009, at which PAGE filed suit arguing the state had no right to cut the supplements in half.
According to PAGE:
Georgia’s Court of Appeals has upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit PAGE brought seeking payment of stipends to the state’s approximately 2,500 national board certified teachers. The stipends were ten percent of salary, paid annually.
PAGE filed the suit subsequent to the 2009 legislature inserting language into the law stating that the stipends would only be paid “subject to appropriations by the General Assembly.” After that language was put into the law, the Legislature ceased fully funding the stipends and since then has ceased paying the stipends entirely.
The decision centered on the Court’s support of the ability of the Legislature to decide each session what budget items it will fund. In its ruling the court cited the 1997 Buskirk case as a precedent: “The Court has said no one Legislature [can] tie the hands of its successors with reference to a subject upon which they have an equal power to legislate.”
The Appeals Court also sided with the lower court finding that teachers deprived of the stipends can sue their local boards because the employment contracts are between those two parties. PAGE General Counsel Jill Hay said that would not be a viable avenue for teachers since their contracts of employment contain language making salary contingent upon state funding. “Virtually all contracts contain this language,” she noted, “creating what would be in our view an insurmountable barrier for suing teachers to overcome, which is why we sued the state, the original source of the stipends.”
After consultations with outside as well as in-house legal counsel, PAGE will not pursue the lawsuit further. Tom Wommack, director of Legal and Legislative Affairs for PAGE, noted that additional appeals are not likely to be fruitful and would not be a prudent use of organizational resources – legal or financial.
“However, we do not regret bringing this lawsuit and we continue to believe that the legislature is sending a very negative message to the best teachers in the state and at the same time is creating distrust among all educators that the legislature will keep its word over time, particularly with regard to salary incentives,” he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog