Oral Argument January 6, 2015
Appeal from Pierce County Superior Court. Docket No: 13-2-06757-4. Judge signing: Honorable Elizabeth P Martin. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 01/17/2014.
Tyler K. Firkins (of Van Siclen Stocks & Firkins ), for appellant.
William A. Coats and Daniel C. Montopoli (of Vandeberg Johnson & Gandara LLP ), for respondent.
Authored by Rich Melnick. Concurring: Lisa Worswick, Lisa Sutton.
Rich Melnick, J.
[187 Wn.App. 751] ¶ 1 Bethel School District (District) nonrenewed Wanda Riley-Hordyk's employment contract, effective at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, because the District closed the online school where she held the position of principal. A hearing officer upheld the District's decision to nonrenew Riley-Hordyk's contract, and the superior court affirmed the hearing officer's decision. Riley-Hordyk appeals from the superior court's order affirming the nonrenewal, arguing that the District's nonrenewal of her contract and its subsequent refusal to transfer her to an
open principal position violated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the continuing contract statute, and our decision in Peters v. South Kitsap School District No. 402, 8 Wn.App. 809, 509 P.2d 67 (1973). We disagree and affirm the superior court.
¶ 2 Riley-Hordyk served as a teacher and principal at Bethel High School until issues arose concerning her performance [187 Wn.App. 752] during the 2009-2010 school year. Near the end of the 2009-2010 school year, the District demoted Riley-Hordyk from her principal position at Bethel High School to a subordinate position at the Bethel Online Academy. Then at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, the District nonrenewed her employment contract because of unprofessional conduct. Riley-Hordyk filed a lawsuit against the District, and the parties settled the suit. As part of this settlement, Riley-Hordyk became the principal of the Bethel Online Academy (BOA). The District classified Riley-Hordyk as a secondary principal and paid her at the level of an elementary school principal. She was also subject to the terms and conditions of the CBA negotiated between the District and the principals' union.
¶ 3 On February 28, 2012, due to financial issues, the District's board of directors unanimously voted to close BOA effective the following school year. The District projected that BOA would lose $330,000 in the 2012-2013 school year because of reduced state funding, administrative burdens, and decreased enrollment. Riley-Hordyk repeatedly requested that the District transfer her into another principal position within the District. Each time, the District refused her request. The District told Riley-Hordyk that she needed to submit an application to be considered for open principal positions and that the CBA did not provide her a right to transfer into one of the positions. The District invited Riley-Hordyk to apply for open positions through the normal process.
¶ 4 On May 9, the District notified Riley-Hordyk that probable cause existed to nonrenew her employment contract at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. The District informed Riley-Hordyk that her position was being eliminated [187 Wn.App. 753] due to " insufficient revenue to maintain the current level of programs and services in the District." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 381. This elimination occurred because of " the overall financial situation of the District, changes in the school funding formula, student enrollment, and the overall needs of the District." CP at 381. The District stated that Riley-Hordyk's performance did not factor into the decision to nonrenew her contract. The District referred to Riley-Hordyk's contract's nonrenewal as a " [r]eduction in [f]orce" under the CBA. CP at 382.
¶ 5 Despite eliminating Riley-Hordyk's principal position, the total number of principals in the District for the 2012-2013 school year remained unchanged from the previous year because concurrent with its closure of BOA, the District reopened an elementary school that had been previously closed for renovation. In addition to Riley-Hordyk's position, the District also eliminated six assistant principals' positions. All six displaced assistant principals applied for open positions within the District, and five of them were hired into other positions. Riley-Hordyk applied for a single elementary school principal position, but she did not appear for the interview because she believed that it conflicted with her son's graduation. She also applied
for various associate administrator positions, but she did not receive invitations for interviews.
¶ 6 Riley-Hordyk appealed her contract's nonrenewal. After hearing testimony, the hearing officer made the following findings of fact:
o Riley-Hordyk was employed at BOA on a continuing contract basis;
[187 Wn.App. 754] o BOA was projected to lose $330,000 in the 2012-2013 school year as a result of reduced allotments and increased recordkeeping and compliance requirements;
o BOA was closed for financial reasons, and Riley-Hordyk's employment nonrenewed;
o Riley-Hordyk asked to be transferred to other principal positions, but was denied;
o Riley-Hordyk failed to apply for any principal positions except for the elementary school position, for which she did not appear for her interview; and
o The District still had 27 principals following its reduction in force because it had re-opened an elementary school in ...