HARRISBURG — Court cases that involve a provision of the Commonwealth’s education law known as the Transfer Between Entities Act are relatively rare, according to a lawyer with years of experience representing school districts.
The law mandates that under certain circumstances, school districts have to hire from a pool of furloughed teachers. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled that Penn-Trafford School District had violated the act when it didn’t go to Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center’s transfer pool to hire a teacher after it and several other districts stopped sending their the technical and career students to the center for math classes.
George Joseph, an attorney with Quinn, Buseck, Leemhuis, Toohey and Kroto Inc., said that relatively few cases involving the law are filed, and even fewer go to appellate courts.
“I haven’t seen a lot of litigation on the Transfer Between Entities Act,” Joseph, who serves as solicitor for three school districts, told the Pennsylvania Record.
That might change with more school districts looking to save money with cuts to education funding, he said, but apart from cases that helped establish precedent for the law, there haven’t been many such cases.
“The Transfer Between Entities Act is typically used when a school district, for example, takes back a special education class that was being handled by the local intermediate unit,” Joseph said.
If the school district taking back its students needs to hire a teacher to handle those students, it’s obligated by law to go to the transfer pool.
“If, for example, a school was going to take back an emotional support special education course, and didn't need a teacher for that, but did need a biology teacher at the high school, they don't have to go to the transfer pool to find someone certified in biology,” Joseph said.
"But if they need an emotional support teacher, someone who is certified in special education, then they would.”
In the Penn-Trafford case, the district didn’t need any new teachers to handle the students. Not long after the students were transferred, a math teacher resigned, and the district hired a long-term substitute teacher to fill the position. The furloughed teachers sued, and the state Supreme Court said Penn-Trafford should have gone to the transfer pool.
Penn-Trafford argued that the law didn’t apply in this case, because the district was transferring students and not an entire program, since the students were entering math classes that already existed. The court disagreed and noted that a 1991 addition to the law says that schools that take “program responsibility” for the transferred students have to use the pool.
A footnote to the court’s opinion, which was written by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, clarifies part of the reasoning behind the decision — the law was designed to protect teachers and should be construed in a way that favors that outcome.
“To the degree there is any remaining doubt based on the concept that a school entity's assumption of program responsibility presupposes that a program has been transferred, we note that the Transfer Act is remedial legislation designed to protect the employment interests of furloughed professional school employees,” the footnote reads.
“Hence, the act is to be liberally construed to effectuate its objectives, with doubts resolved in favor of the conferral of such protection.”