Public School Teacher, Non-Renewal of Contract V. Tenure, Property interest, Due Process.

By Kelby Fletcher
Stokes Lawrence, P.S.
Nov 20, 2015

Schlosser v. Bethel School District

183 Wn. App. 280, 333 P.3d 475 (2014), review denied, 182 Wn.2d 1004 (2015)

In this 2-1 decision we learn that a Washington public school teacher does not have tenure and that she had no property interest requiring due process in the employer’s decision not to renew her contract. A dissent argues there is a property interest involved.

Plaintiff taught in the public schools beginning in the 1980s. She started teaching in the Bethel School District in 1998. For ten years, all of her evaluations for teaching were ‘satisfactory.’ Starting in 2009 the evaluations started declining to the point in 2012 where the Superintendent placed her on a 60 day probation. ¶¶ 2-4. During that period, there was not much improvement. In May, the Superintendent notified her that there was probable cause not to renew her employment contract at the end of the school year. ¶ 5.

Plaintiff appealed the non-renewal determination to a hearing officer as provided by law. ¶ 6. That procedure was unsatisfactory and she sought review in Superior Court which affirmed.

In the courts, plaintiff claimed that due process was violated because she received a hearing only after the decision not to renew her contract was made and not in advance of that determination. ¶ 12. For this, she cited out of state authority regarding terminations of tenured public school teachers. ¶ 13. However, Washington’s statutes provide for automatic renewal of one year contracts unless notice of non-renewal is timely given as opposed to a permanent status of tenure. ¶ 15. Therefore according to the majority, she did not have tenure rights and did not have a property interest in renewal of her contract.

Assuming there was a property interest, the post-deprivation hearing process afforded by RCW 28A comported with due process. The pre-termination hearing required in ClevelandBd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985) involved discharge of a public employee, not non-renewal of a contract. ¶ 19.

The dissent argued that RCW 28A.405.310(8) places substantive procedural restrictions on a decision maker’s discretion and therefore gives a teacher a property interest in renewal of her contract. This opinion asserted that Loudermill applies, and requires a pre-termination hearing, because of the teacher’s interest in retaining employment. ¶ 48