may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Independent School District No. 181,
Filed September 8, 1998
Independent School District No. 181
Thomas A. Fitzpatrick, 220 Laurel Street, Post Office Box 367, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Thoreen, Judge.*
Relator Laurie Rakow challenges the school board's determination to non-renew her teaching contract, arguing that she was never formally dismissed because the school board was required by statute to send her a written notice prior to June 1, 1996. We affirm.
On November 13, 1995, Rakow entered into an annual teaching contract with respondent Independent School District No. 181. By the terms of the contract, Rakow agreed to teach for 102.5 days, which is a partial school year. The contract covered the 1995-96 school year. In May 1996, the superintendent of schools and the principal orally informed Rakow that her contract would not be renewed for the 1996-97 school year.
Rakow did not report for teaching the following school year. She did, however, question whether she had been lawfully terminated and subsequently came to the conclusion that ISD No. 181 failed to follow the statutory requirements for non-renewing her teaching contract pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3 (1996). ISD No. 181 admitted that it did not formally non-renew Rakow's contract at the end of the 1995-96 school year, but argued Rakow was fully aware when she signed the contract that it was only for part of the school year.
On February 4, 1998, the superintendent of schools sent Rakow a letter notifying her that at the next school board meeting her November 13, 1995, teaching contract would be formally non-renewed. Rakow received a written notice regarding her non-renewal February 12, 1998. Rakow appeals.
Certiorari review of teacher termintion under Minn. Stat. § 125.12 (1996) is limited. In re Hagen, 465 N.W.2d 707, 709 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. April 18, 1991). A school board's decision to terminate a teacher should be set aside if the decision is arbitrary or finds its basis in an erroneous theory of law. Liffrig v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 442, 292 N.W.2d 726, 729 (Minn. 1980).
As long as statutory procedure is followed, reviewing courts are reluctant to interfere with a school board's decision to terminate a probationary teacher. Skeim v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 115, 305 Minn. 464, 473, 234 N.W.2d 806, 812 (Minn. 1975). The legislature outlined the following statutory procedures to which a school board must adhere:
During the probationary period any annual contract with any teacher may or may not be renewed as the school board shall see fit; provided, however, that the school board shall give any such teacher whose contract it declines to renew for the following school year written notice to that effect before June 1.
Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3 (1996).
This court is limited to determining whether the board complied with the statutory requirements of Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3, in non-renewing Rakow's teaching contract. Strict compliance with the statute is not necessary in this case, however, because it does not involve termination of a tenured teacher; rather, substantial compliance is all that is required because Rakow was on probationary status. Shell v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 811, 301 Minn. 442, 444, 223 N.W.2d 774, 775 (Minn. 1974).
There is no dispute that Rakow was hired under an annual contract as a probationary teacher. The contract at issue in this case specifically mentions Minn. Stat. § 125.12, Rakow's compensation is expressed in terms of annual salary, and the contract covers the 1995-96 school year. Cf. Poirier v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 191, 255 N.W.2d 400, 404 (Minn. 1977) (finding annual contract within meaning of Minn. Stat. § 125.12 where contract specifically mentioned statute, referred to duration of school year, and referred to compensation as annual salary).
The focus of this appeal centers on the notice requirement. ISD No. 181 claims that it was not required to send Rakow a written notice by June 1, 1996, because it had three years to formally non-renew Rakow's teaching contract. We disagree. According to Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3:
The first three consecutive years of a teacher's first teaching experience in Minnesota on a single school district shall be deemed to be a probationary period of employment * * *.
ISD No. 181 argues that because the probationary term lasts three years it is only logical that it have three years to issue a written notice of non-renewal. This, however, is contrary to the plain meaning of the statute. See Green Giant Co. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 534 N.W.2d 710, 712 (Minn. 1995) (requiring courts to give effect to plain meaning of statute when language is clear and unambiguous). The statute clearly requires written notice of non-renewal "before June 1" of "the following school year." Minn. Stat § 125.12, subd. 3. Because Rakow did not receive written notice prior to June 1, 1996, ISD No. 181 failed to strictly comply with the statutory notice requirement.
As previously stated, however, all that is required is substantial compliance because Rakow was on probationary status. Shell, 301 Minn. at 444, 223 N.W.2d at 775. We, therefore, must determine whether the oral notice Rakow received from the superintendent of schools substantially complied with the notice requirement of Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3.
The statute's notice requirement is satisfied if the school board's intention is conveyed. See Jordahl v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 129, 302 Minn. 286, 292, 225 N.W.2d 224, 228 (Minn. 1974) (even though written notice did not specifically use words "discontinuance of position," fair reading of notice clearly conveyed to tenured teacher position was being discontinued). The statute "protect[s] teachers from arbitrary discharge while not placing unreasonable restrictions on the powers [of] a school board." Poirier, 255 N.W.2d at 404.
Written notice in this case was not necessary because Rakow was fully aware that her contract would not be renewed after the 1996 school year. Both the superintendent and the principal orally informed Rakow prior to June 1, 1996, that she would not have a teaching contract for the 1996-97 school year. Rakow acknowledges that on "or about May 15, 1996, [she] was informed by her principal that she would have no job during the following school year." It was clear on the face of the contract that Rakow's teaching position was for a period of 102.5 days. That Rakow treated the contract as terminated is evidenced by her failure to show up to work the 1996-97 school year. Requiring written notice in this case is superfluous because Rakow understood her contract would not be renewed. We hold, on the particular facts of this case, oral notice of non-renewal satisfied the substantial compliance requirement for notice under Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 3.
Because we are affirming the school board's decision, we decline to address Rakow's claim that she is entitled to reinstatement with full back pay.
*Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.