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Koppi v. Board of Control





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Whiteside County; the Hon. L.E. Ellison, Judge, presiding.


This case comes on appeal by plaintiff, Stefan F. Koppi, from orders dismissing his complaint. We affirm.

Koppi was employed by defendant Whiteside Area Vocational Center (WAVC). WAVC is a joint educational program created to provide vocational education for all the participating defendant school districts. Koppi was honorably terminated at the end of the 1981-82 school year. This was due to a reduction in force at WAVC.

Koppi had earned contractual continued service (sometimes called, as here, tenure) with WAVC and claims to have been entitled to an open position that existed in one of the member school districts after his dismissal. He makes this claim on the basis of a rescinded policy that WAVC had in effect during part of the 1981-82 school year. The rescinded policy stated that WAVC-tenured teachers were to have equivalent tenure in participating districts. On February 3, 1982, the defendant board of control adopted a policy which eliminated the "super-tenure" provision. Thus, WAVC-tenured employees held tenure with WAVC only, not the member school districts.

Koppi's suit sought mandamus, an injunction, declaratory judgment, and monetary damages. On defendant's motion, the trial court dismissed Koppi's amended complaint. Koppi then brought this appeal, asking this court to reverse the trial court.

The pertinent statute is in the School Code, the last paragraph of Section 24-11:

"The employment of any teacher in a special education program authorized by Section 14-1.01 through 14-14.04 or a joint educational program established under Section 10-22.31a shall be under this and succeeding Sections of this Article, and such employment shall be deemed a continuation of the previous employment of such teacher in any of the participating districts, regardless of the participation of other districts in the program. Any teacher employed as a full-time teacher in a special education program in which 2 or more school districts participate for a probationary period of 2 consecutive years shall enter upon contractual continued service in each of the participating districts, subject to this and the succeeding Sections of this Article, and in the event of the termination of the program shall be eligible for any vacant position in any of such districts for which he is qualified." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 122, par. 24-11.

The legislative history shows that the emphasized language above was added in the 1968 amendment to the section. The second sentence was not amended. The legislature's intention could not be more clear. In amending the statute, the legislature provided not only for tenure within special education programs, but also for such programs as WAVC. However, the "super-tenure" rights that existed for special education teachers was not expanded. The legislature recognized a need for protecting special education teachers, thus creating the necessary difference from other joint program teachers.

• 1 Further, grants of tenure rights are to be strictly construed. (Johnson v. Board of Education (1981), 85 Ill.2d 338, 423 N.E.2d 903.) We will therefore not interpret the clear language of the statute to mean anything other than what is written. This is not to say that a teacher has no tenure rights within a cooperative. We hold only that non-special-education teachers are not to be afforded the "super-tenure" protection of section 24-11.

• 2 The other issue raised by Koppi is whether the policy change was arbitrary and capricious. Koppi claims that the change, which was made in February, altered his contract with WAVC. We find that the change was not arbitrary and capricious, nor did it alter Koppi's contract. The prior policy granting "super-tenure" was not a legitimate exercise of the powers of the board of control.

The controlling statute is clear. "A board of control composed of one member from each cooperating district * * * will set policy for the cooperative." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 122, par. 3-15.14.) Again, the legislature could not have been clearer. When read with section 24-11, the board of control can give tenure to teachers within the cooperative program only, not member districts. The legislature granted "super-tenure" to special education teachers, not other teachers, and a school board is the only entity that can grant tenure within its district.

Thus, a fair reading of the applicable statutes shows that the board of control had created an ultra vires policy. When it amended the policy in question, it was conforming it to the mandates of the statute. Thus, the change was not arbitrary and capricious. Also, if Koppi's contract with the board included the provision, that portion of the contract was void, as the provision was ultra vires. The board cannot give what it is not empowered to; thus, the statutory language applies — the language of the new policy. We find, therefore, that Koppi's contract was not altered by the policy change.

• 3 Koppi's final contention, argued in briefs only, was that he was entitled to damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as the change in policy deprived him of a protected property interest. The existence of such a constitutionally protected interest is determined by reference to State law. (See McElearney v. University of Illinois (7th Cir. 1979), 612 F.2d 285, 289, and citations therein.) We hold that the old policy of the board did not create a protected property interest. As we held above, that policy was void. The statutory policy controlled. Koppi had no protected property interest in further employment by the board or any member district. Nor do we see any indicia of custom, ...

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