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Webb v. Meyer

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 29, 2013

HENRY WEBB, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE FLOYD COUNTY SCHOOLS; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF FLOYD COUNTY, KENTUCKY APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
PAMELA MEYER APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NOS. 2008-CA-002274-MR AND 2008-CA-002312-MR FLOYD CIRCUIT COURT NO. 07-CI-01038

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES: Michael J. Schmitt, Jonathan C. Shaw, Porter, Schmitt, Banks & Baldwin.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT: James Follace Fields, II, Brooks, McComb & Fields, LLP.

OPINION

NOBLE, JUSTICE.

This case presents the question of whether a reduction in the number of positions in a single job classification within a public school district, without a reduction in the overall number of school district employees, is a "reduction in-force" under KRS 161.011 requiring application of the statutory seniority rules. This Court concludes that it is not.

I. Background

In 2007, a new elementary school, Prestonsburg Elementary, was opened by the Floyd County Board of Education. In the process, two older elementary schools were closed, one of which was Clark Elementary School, where Pamela Meyer, the Appellee/Cross-Appellant, had been employed for 14.5 years. Meyer was a classified employee as defined in KRS 161.011(1)(a), working full-time in the Family Resource Youth Service Center (FRYSC) as a coordinator. This program, often referred to phonetically as the "Frisky" program, is directed toward connecting students with local services on a need basis, and is to be located in schools in which 20% of the student body is eligible for free or reduced cost meals. See KRS 156.496.

Before the consolidation, there were fifteen FRYSC coordinators in the Floyd County School District. Afterward, that number was reduced to fourteen. When the two older elementary schools were closed, the position of FRYSC coordinator was abolished for those two schools, and there was only one position at the new school. When positions were reassigned, Meyer was not retained as a FRYSC coordinator even though she was sixth in seniority, but was instead placed as a FRYSC clerk at the new elementary school, which resulted in a reduction in her salary of $6, 235.87 per year. There was no dispute that this was a "lesser" position than her previous assignment.

Meyer was notified that she would no longer have the Clark Elementary FRYSC coordinator position because it had been abolished on June 21, 2007. The letter also informed her that her employment would continue, but that she would now be a clerk rather than a coordinator. Additionally, the letter indicated that a person with less seniority with the school district would be the coordinator at the new school.

Meyer was unsatisfied with this transfer, and filed a declaratory judgment action, in Floyd Circuit Court claiming that her statutory rights under KRS 161.011(8) had been violated because her transfer was the result of an improperly conducted reduction in force. The school system argued that there had been no reduction in force, and therefore no triggering of the seniority provision of KRS 161.011(8), because no employees were terminated. The board argued that termination is required to meet the definition of reduction in force in the school board statutes, and also as stated in their Board policy, and that the district did not have fewer employees than before the consolidation.

The circuit court agreed with Meyer and ruled in her favor. She was reinstated as a FRYSC coordinator for the next school year. At the same time, the school district appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court. We granted discretionary review in this case to determine whether there had been a reduction in force, and if so, whether the statutory requirements had been violated.

II. Analysis

Meyer argues that the school district's plan to close two elementary schools and consolidate them into one new school resulted in a reduction in force under KRS 161.011(8) because there was one fewer FRYSC coordinator after the consolidation than there had been prior.[1] Because of this, she further argues, subsection 8(b) required that she be placed as a coordinator because she had more than four continuous years of service in the school system, was more senior than several other coordinators, and the superintendent was required to reduce within the job classification based on seniority and qualifications.

If there were indeed a reduction in force, her argument correctly states what the statute requires: reductions within a job classification must be made based on seniority, with those having less service time and qualifications being the first to be reduced from employment. KRS 161.011(8). However, the statute does not define what "reduction in ...


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