Copyright 1998 - N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts


No. COA97-600

(Filed 17 February 1998)

Schools § 147 (NCI4th)-- teachers -- career development -- programs changed -- salary protection

    The trial court erred by granting defendant's motion for summary judgment in a class action brought by teachers employed by defendant Alexander County who had obtained career status under the Career Development Pilot Program but who alleged that the Board failed to comply with the statutory mandate and pay the salary, bonus and supplements to which they were entitled when the General Assembly discontinued the CDPP and put into place a new career development program. The statutes without doubt enunciate the intent of the General Assembly to create statutory protection for teachers who qualified under the CDPP from any reduction in monthly salary caused solely by discontinuation of the original program.

    Appeal by plaintiffs from order filed 3 March 1997 by Judge H. W. Zimmerman, Jr. in Alexander County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 14 January 1998.


    Ferguson, Stein, Wallas, Adkins, Gresham & Sumter, P.A., by John W. Gresham, for plaintiffs-appellants.

    Joel C. Harbinson for defendant-appellee.

    JOHN, Judge.

    Plaintiffs appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Alexander County Board of Education (the Board). We reverse the order of the trial court.

    Pertinent facts and procedural information include the following: The Alexander County School System (the System) was one of sixteen public school systems selected in 1985 by the General Assembly to participate in the Career Development Pilot Program (CDPP). See N.C.G.S. §§ 115C-363 - 115C-363.11 (1991). Deeming it "essential to attract and retain the best people in teaching and in school administration," the General Assembly enacted the CDPP, expressing therein the policy of "provid[ing] an adequate base salary for and encourag[ing] differentiation of all teachers and school administrators." G.S. § 115C-363. To that end, teachers attaining "career level" status as defined in the section and who accepted duties for career status teachers were to earn additional pay and bonuses. G.S. § 115C-363.11. In the event the CDPP was subsequently discontinued, the statute provided that

        any employee who has received a salary increment pursuant to the Career Development Plan shall continue to be paid the salary increment; however, the employee shall not receive any additional State annual increments, cost-of-living increments, or other salary increments unless the employee's salary would otherwise be less than the salary applicable to him on the State base salary schedule.

G.S. § 115C-363.11(c).

    In 1989, the CDPP was in fact discontinued by the General Assembly, which established in its place a "site-based" permanent career development program under the "School Improvement and Accountability Act of 1989" (the Act). 1989 N.C. Sess. Laws ch. 778 (later codified in Chapter 115C of the General Statutes). The new program, denominated the "Performance-based Accountability Program," shifted the implementation focus to individual schools and school districts and authorized the respective local school systems to develop their own differentiated pay plans, while retaining the option to continue use of the CDPP. See N.C.G.S. § 115C-238.4(a) (1991). During the 1990-91 school year, the System continued utilization of the CDPP.

    Subsequent modifications of the Act dealt with the transitional period for counties moving from the original CDPP towards their own plan. Pertinent to the case sub judice, for example, 1989 Sess. Laws ch. 778, § 7, entitled "Existing Career Development and Lead Teacher Pilot Programs," was amended to provide:

        No provision of this section shall be construed to allow a local school administrative unit to pay any teacher, in salary and State-funded bonus or supplement, less than it paid that teacher on a monthly basis during the prior school year, so long as the teacher qualifies for a bonus or supplement under the local differentiated pay plan.

1989 N.C. Sess. Laws (Reg. Sess., 1990) ch. 1066, § 97(g)("§ 97(g)").

    In 1992, the General Assembly again addressed incentive and bonus pay for educators in an enactment requiring that

        [a]ll local school administrative units, including career ladder pilot units . . . adopt new differentiated pay plans for the 1993-94 school year, in accordance with the School Improvement and Accountability Act of 1989.

1991 N.C. Sess. Laws (Reg. Sess., 1992) ch. 900, § 71(d). Further,

        [w]ith regard to the amount of State funds appropriated in subsequent fiscal years for local school administrative units that were career ladder pilot units, it is the intent of the General Assembly that any reductions in appropriations not result in teachers receiving less, in salary and State-funded bonus, than they received on a monthly basis during the prior fiscal year so long as the teachers qualify for bonuses under the local differentiated pay plan.