NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court."
Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the
parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-1572-16T3
VIDYA GANGADIN, BOARD OF
EDUCATION PRESIDENT and
RAMON RIVERA, BOARD ATTORNEY,
THE JERSEY CITY EDUCATION
ASSOCIATION, RONALD F.
GRECO, JR., MONIQUE K.
ANDREWS and ELLEN ZADROGA,
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE
CITY OF JERSEY CITY and
DR. MARCIA V. LYLES,
Argued May 23, 2018 – Decided June 25, 2018
Before Judges Koblitz, Manahan and Suter.
On appeal from the Commissioner of the New
Jersey Department of Education, Docket Nos.
62-2/16 and 85-3/16.
Albert J. Leonardo argued the cause for
appellants Jersey City Education Association,
Ronald F. Greco, Jr., Monique K. Andrews and
Ellen Zadroga (Bucceri & Pincus, attorneys;
Louis P. Bucceri, of counsel; Albert J.
Leonardo, on the brief).
Perry L. Lattiboudere argued the cause for
respondent Board of Education of the City of
Jersey City (Adams, Gutierrez & Lattiboudere,
LLC, attorneys; Perry L. Lattiboudere, of
counsel and on the brief; Ruby Kumar-Thompson,
on the brief).
Stephen J. Edelstein argued the cause for
respondent Dr. Marcia V. Lyles (Schwartz,
Simon, Edelstein & Celso, LLC, attorneys;
Stephen J. Edelstein, of counsel and on the
brief; Stephen M. Bacigalupo and Aimee S.
Weiner, on the brief).
Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney
for respondent Commissioner of Education (Lori
Prapas, Deputy Attorney General, on the
statement in lieu of brief).
Petitioners Jersey City Education Association, Ronald F.
Greco, Jr., Monique K. Andrews and Ellen Zadroga (collectively
petitioners) appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner of
Education (Commissioner) dismissing the petition. The petitioners
sought to enjoin the Jersey City Board of Education (Board) from
renewing the contract of Dr. Marcia V. Lyles as Superintendent of
Schools (superintendent). We affirm.
We recite the facts and procedural history relevant to our
decision. In August 2012, the Board entered into a contract of
employment with Dr. Lyles for the position of superintendent. The
contract's term was through June 30, 2016, and included a
renewal/non-renewal provision. That provision provided in
The parties agree that prior to October 31,
2015, the [s]uperintendent shall notify the
Board of her desire to extend her employment
on the terms offered or upon other terms upon
which the parties may agree. The Board agrees
that by December 31, 2015[,] it shall notify
the [s]uperintendent in writing whether it
desires to renew this Agreement for an
additional period of time, and of the terms
and conditions proposed for that period.
Failure to notify the [s]uperintendent by that
date of an intention to renew will mean that
an offer of renewal is not being made.
N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1 provides for a superintendent's
automatic reappointment unless "the [B]oard notifies the
superintendent in writing that he will not be reappointed at the
end of the current term." The statute provides a formula to
determine the deadline by which the Board shall provide such
notice, which was undisputed to be 120 days prior to the expiration
of the contract.
On December 17, 2015, the Board's attorney advised the Board
that notice of non-renewal had to be given to Lyles by December
31, 2015, or her contract would be deemed automatically renewed
by operation of
N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1. Notwithstanding, the Board
took no action with regard to the renewal or non-renewal of Lyles'
contract prior to March 2, 2016.
On March 14, 2016, petitioner filed a petition with the
Commissioner challenging Lyles' continued employment. After the
Board and Lyles filed motions to dismiss the petition in lieu of
an answer, the matter was transferred to the Office of
Administrative Law. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an
order consolidating the instant matter with a related petition
filed by Lorenzo Richardson, which also challenged the renewal of
the contract.1 Motions for summary decision and opposition thereto
were filed. The ALJ issued an initial decision granting the
Board's and Lyles' motions for summary decision and recommending
the dismissal of the petition with prejudice. Petitioners filed
exceptions to which the Board and Lyles responded. The
Commissioner adopted the ALJ's findings and his initial decision
dismissing the petition.
On appeal, petitioners raise the following arguments:
LYLES' CONTRACT PROVIDED NOTICE OF NON-RENEWAL
IN ACCORDANCE WITH
N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1 WHICH
THUS PROHIBITED HER AUTOMATIC RENEWAL AND THE
COMMISSIONER'S DETERMINATION THAT HER
Richardson has not filed an appeal.
CONTRACT DID NOT SERVE AS WRITTEN NOTICE IS
ENTITLED TO NO DEFERENCE.
A. Lyles' contract and other actions
by the Board provided her with
notice of her non-renewal, contrary
to the Commissioner's plainly
erroneous application of N.J.S.A.
18A:17-20.1 and basic principles of
B. The contract between the Board
and Lyles is valid and even
assuming, arguendo, that its
provision on renewal is invalid,
that provision is severable from the
non-renewal provision because the
non-renewal provision would not and
did not bind a successor Board.
C. Lyles is serving in the position
of [s]uperintendent illegally
because the Board took no action to
renew her employment.
LYLES MUST BE REMOVED FROM HER POSITION AS
SUPERINTENDENT BECAUSE THE BOARD'S FAILURE TO
LEGALLY APPOINT HER VOIDS HER ABILITY TO SERVE
The scope of our review in an appeal from a final decision
of an administrative agency is limited. Russo v. Bd. of Trs.,
206 N.J. 14, 27 (2011) (citing In re Herrmann,
192 N.J. 19, 27 (2007)).
The agency's decision should be upheld unless there is a "clear
showing that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that
it lacks fair support in the record." Ibid. (quoting Herrmann,
192 N.J. at 27-28). We are not, however, bound by the "agency's
interpretation of a statute or its determination of a strictly
legal issue." Ibid. (quoting Mayflower Sec. Co. v. Bureau of
64 N.J. 85, 93 (1973)).
Public employees and their employers may not agree to
contractual terms that contravene a specific term or condition of
employment set by a statute. Rita Spiewak, et al. v. Bd. of Educ.
of Rutherford, et al.,
90 N.J. 63, 76 (1982).
20.12 governs the reappointment of superintendents, and provides
(in pertinent part) that:
At the conclusion of the term of the initial
contract or of any subsequent contract as
hereinafter provided, the superintendent
shall be deemed reappointed for another
contracted term of the same duration as the
previous contract unless . . . . b. the
[B]oard notifies the superintendent in writing
that he [or she] will not be reappointed at
the end of the current term, in which event
his [or her] employment shall cease at the
expiration of that term, provided that such
notification shall be given prior to the
expiration of the first or any subsequent
contract by a length of time equal to [thirty]
days for each year in the term of the current
The statute was originally enacted in connection with the
abolition of lifetime tenure for superintendents appointed after
August 24, 1991, as a means of promoting stability of employment.
Gonzalez v. Bd. of Educ. of Elizabeth Sch. Dist.,
325 N.J. Super. 244, 253-54 (App. Div. 1999). This section was modified to its
current form in 2008, and previously required one year's notice
of non-renewal. L. 2008, c. 106, § 1.
Here, the contract of employment terms may neither substitute
nor override the statutorily required written notice. To the
contrary, the Legislature's express mandate requires Boards of
Education to provide superintendents with an affirmative, timely
declaration of non-renewal in writing.
Since Lyles' contract spanned four years, the applicable
statutory formula required the Board to provide her with written
notification of non-renewal by March 2, 2016. As noted above, it
is without dispute the Board did not issue a formal written notice
of non-renewal to Lyles within the statutory timeframe. It
follows, as the Commissioner decided and we agree, the renewal of
Lyles' contract occurred by operation of law.
Petitioners' remaining arguments, not specifically addressed
herein, lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written
opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).