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Hall v. Prescott School District

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

March 29, 2017

KIM HALL APPELLANT
v.
PRESCOTT SCHOOL DISTRICT APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE NEVADA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 50CV-14-5] HONORABLE DUNCAN CULPEPPER, JUDGE

          Mitchell, Blackstock, Ivers & Sneddon, PLLC, by: Greg Alagood, for appellant.

          Bequette & Billingsly, P.A., by: George J. Bequette, Jr., and W. Cody Kees, for appellee.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Appellant Kim Hall appeals the order of the Nevada County Circuit Court awarding summary judgment to the Prescott School District (the District). The core of this case is whether teaching prekindergarten (pre-K) qualifies as performing the duties of a full-time teacher under Arkansas Code Annotated section 6-17-2403(c)(3)(A) (Repl. 2015). We hold that the circuit court incorrectly awarded summary judgment because, in answering the question of what constitutes a full-time teacher, the circuit court improperly made a factual finding regarding the material fact that is in dispute in this case. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         On July 28, 2011, Hall entered into a teacher's contract with the District to be employed as an elementary school teacher for the 2011-2012 school year. When she signed the contract, the superintendent of the District gave her credit for seven years of teaching experience beginning in 1998 but declined to give her credit for six years of teaching experience from 2005 through 2011.[1] Her contract with the District was renewed May 16, 2012 for the 2012-2013 school year. On February 5, 2014, Hall filed her complaint against the District in the Nevada County Circuit Court alleging that the District had failed to pay her based on her years of teaching experience in accordance with the minimum-salary schedule, as required by Arkansas Code Annotated section 6-17-2403. The District filed a timely answer to the complaint on March 3, 2014.

         On January 15, 2016, Hall filed her motion for summary judgment and brief in support thereof. Attached to her motion was her affidavit, which delineated her work history from 1998 through 2011. Hall asserted that at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, she had thirteen years of experience, which included her time both as an elementary school teacher and as a pre-K teacher. Hall argued in her motion that she was underpaid $2, 700 for the 2011-2012 school year and $2, 700 for the 2012-2013 school year.

         The District filed a response to Hall's motion for summary judgment and a countermotion for summary judgment on February 1, 2016. Attached was the affidavit of Robert Poole, the superintendent of the District. Poole's affidavit provided that, under District personnel policies and practices, the District does not credit teachers with years of experience when they are teaching at a pre-K program because such teachers do not perform the full-time duties of a teacher as required by Arkansas law. Hall was given credit on the salary schedule for seven years of elementary teaching experience from 1998 through 2005, but was not given credit for an additional six years of teaching experience in pre-K programs from 2005 through 2011. Poole stated that Hall had specific knowledge of the District's policy and practice when she signed her employment contract with the District.

         Hall responded to the District's countermotion for summary judgment on February 22, 2016, and attached her affidavit in which she stated that at the time she entered into her contract with the District, she had no knowledge that the District had a policy or practice that did not give certified personnel credit for years of teaching experience in a pre-K program and that she had no agreement with the District that she would not be paid in accordance with the salary schedule. Hall asserted that her six years of experience in a pre-K program was "unquestionably" performing the full-time duties of a teacher for a full school year with a valid Arkansas teaching license.

         On May 5, 2016, the circuit court held a hearing on the parties' competing motions for summary judgment. The court found, as a matter of law, that years of teaching experience in a pre-K program do not count toward performing full-time duties of a teacher for a full school year with a valid Arkansas teaching license within the meaning of Arkansas Code Annotated section 6-17-2403(c)(3)(A).

         Arkansas Code Annotated section 6-17-2403 provides the following:

(c)(1) For purposes of the salary schedules described in this section, the teacher's experience is his or her total years' experience as a teacher with a valid Arkansas teaching license and teaching at any:
(A) Public school accredited by the Department of Education or a nationally recognized accrediting association;
(B) Private school within the State of Arkansas accredited by a nationally recognized ...

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