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Decision No. 14,189

Appeal of VIRGINIA TROMBLEY from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Plattsburgh regarding shared decisionmaking.

Decision No. 14,189

(August 17, 1999)

Stafford, Trombley, Purcell, Owens & Curtin, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Dennis D. Curtin, Esq., of counsel

CATE, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the adoption of a shared decisionmaking plan by the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Plattsburgh ("respondent"). The appeal must be sustained in part.

On May 7, 1998, respondent recertified its new "School Based Planning and Shared Decision Making Plan" ("plan"). The plan provides for a District-wide Educational Improvement Council ("council") and School Improvement Planning (SIP) Teams.

Petitioner, a parent of children enrolled in respondent’s district, alleges that the plan was improperly adopted because members of respondent board, students and support staff served on what she refers to as "the district’s planning committee." She also alleges that the public was denied a part in the decisionmaking process, and objects to the fact that the committee meets on a regular basis. Petitioner requests that the Commissioner order respondent to: reconstruct the planning committee to exclude board members, students and support staff; reconvene the committee so that it can conduct a proper biennial review after consultation with and full participation of all stakeholder groups; and restrict the function of the committee to include only recertification of the plan during the biennial review.

Respondent admits that its plan calls for the inclusion of two members of respondent board on the council, but contends that board appointments are permitted by the contractual agreements between respondent and the Plattsburgh Teachers Association ("Association"). Respondent also asserts that "100.11(c)(1) of the Commissioner’s regulations does not specifically exclude board members. However, respondent admits that the intent of the regulation is that members of a board of education work in collaboration with the district planning committee and not serve on the committee itself. Therefore, respondent pledges to take the action necessary to ensure that members of respondent board do not serve on the council. Respondent requests that the Commissioner deny the remaining relief requested.

The shared decisionmaking regulation (8 NYCRR "100.11) provides, in pertinent part:

(b) By February 1, 1994, each public school district board of education and each board of cooperative educational services (BOCES) shall develop and adopt a district plan for the participation by teachers and parents with administrators and school board members in school-based planning and shared decisionmaking. Such district plan shall be developed in collaboration with a committee composed of the superintendent of schools, administrators selected by the district's administrative bargaining organization(s), teachers selected by the teachers' collective bargaining organization(s), and parents (not employed by the district or a collective bargaining organization representing teachers or administrators in the district) selected by school-related parent organizations, provided that those portions of the district plan that provide for participation of teachers or administrators in school-based planning and shared decisionmaking may be developed through collective negotiations between the board of education or BOCES and local collective bargaining organizations representing administrators and teachers.

In addition, "100.11(f) provides in part:

The district's ‘Plan for the Participation by Teachers and Parents in School-based Planning and Shared Decisionmaking’ shall be reviewed biennially by the board of education or BOCES in accordance with subdivision (b) of this section. Any amendment or recertification of a plan shall be developed and adopted in the manner prescribed by subdivision (b) and paragraphs (d)(1) and (2) of this section.

Section 100.11 identifies the mandatory participants in the shared decisionmaking process, specifically providing that a district plan shall be developed, amended or recertified "in collaboration with a committee composed of the superintendent of schools, administrators..., teachers..., and parents..." (8 NYCRR 100.11[b] and [f]). The school board is responsible for adopting the district's plan after consultation with and full participation by the designated representatives of the administrators, teachers and parents, and after seeking the endorsement of the plan by such designated representatives (8 NYCRR "100.11[d][1]).

The council in respondent’s plan, however, consists of two support staff, two students, two board of education members, five parents, five teachers, the Association president, four administrators and the superintendent. The composition of the council appears to be the result of an attempt by respondent and the Association to remold a pre-existing committee to fulfill the requirements of "100.11. Prior to the enactment of the shared decisionmaking regulation, a contractual agreement between respondent and the Association at Article XXII, paragraph E (effective July 1, 1990 – June 30, 1993) called for the establishment of a District-wide Educational Policy Council to "act as a forum to identify problems and facilitate investigation of alternatives to problem resolutions." That policy council was comprised of the superintendent (or designee), president of the Association (or designee), two representatives appointed by the board of education, six representatives appointed by the Association and four representatives appointed by the Administrative Council. In subsequent agreements (effective July 1, 1993 – June 30, 1995, and July 1, 1995 – June 30 1998, respectively), paragraph E was amended to acknowledge that the purposes of the district-wide educational policy council would be consistent with the requirements of "100.11. The council composition remained the same, with the addition of "others as required by 8 NYCRR 100.11."

However, it appears that the council also acts as the district’s planning committee since it is also responsible for facilitating the development of the written plan, and reviewing and revising the plan. The district’s plan provides that the council "shall continually assess shared decision making in the district and revise the plan as needed" (part 1.5), "formally review this plan biennially, as per Commissioner’s Regulations Part 100.11" (part 1.6), and "meet regularly to pursue educational issues to ensure ongoing improvement of the Plattsburgh City School District" (part 1.7).

Accordingly, to the extent the council serves as the district planning committee, I find that respondent’s appointment of board members to the council violates "100.11. The intent of "100.11 is for board members to work in collaboration with the district planning committee and not serve on the committee itself (Appeal of Chester, 35 Ed Dept Rep 512, Decision No. 13,616; Appeal of United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO), 34 id. 528, Decision No. 13,403). However, there is no evidence in the record that this defect requires the annulment of the district plan. Therefore, I will not set aside the plan on this basis. Nevertheless, respondent is reminded that in future biennial reviews, board members should not serve on the planning committee designated by "100.11(b) and (f).

Petitioner also objects to the fact that support staff and students sit on the council. Section 100.11 prescribes the mandatory participants for the planning committee and does not include students or staff. Thus, it could be argued that the service of support staff and students is clearly beyond the scope of "100.11(b) and (f), as is the service of board members. However, whereas the board has prescribed roles under the regulation that would conflict with direct service on the committee itself (i.e., to adopt the plan after consulting with and seeking the endorsement of the designated representatives on the planning committee), support staff and students do not. Thus, students and support staff are not necessarily prohibited from serving as members of the committee as long as the requirements of the regulation continue to be met. Respondent is reminded that only a properly comprised committee may issue guidelines and/or decisions to amend the plan (Appeal of Sadue-Sokolow, 39 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,155). These regulatory responsibilities may not be delegated to another entity with other membership criteria (Appeal of Fitch, 34 Ed Dept Rep 486, Decision No. 13,391).

Petitioner further objects to the fact that the entity she refers to as "the district-wide committee" meets on a regular basis. She contends that the function of the "planning committee" should include only the recertification of the plan during the biennial review. The district’s plan provides that the council "shall continually assess shared decision making in the district and revise the plan as needed" (part 1.5), review the plan biennially and meet regularly to pursue educational issues. The Commissioner has previously found that "100.11 does not explicitly or implicitly require that a district-wide planning committee continue to exist once the plan is adopted by the board of education (Appeal of Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, et al., 34 Ed Dept Rep 656, Decision No. 13,443). On the other hand, the regulation does not prohibit a shared decisionmaking plan from permitting a district-wide committee to handle other on-going functions. Thus, I cannot grant petitioner the relief she requests in this regard.

Finally, petitioner alleges that the public was denied the opportunity to participate in the decision making process. Respondent asserts that there is no requirement to provide notice to members of the public, and that 8 NYCRR "100.11(d)(1) provides only that the "plan shall be made available to the public." Petitioner has the burden of establishing all the facts upon which she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of Pickreign, 28 Ed Dept Rep 163, Decision No. 12,067). Petitioner provides no evidence to substantiate her claim or to demonstrate that respondent has not made the plan available to the public. Accordingly, she has failed to meet her burden of proof on this claim. However, "100.11(d)(1) also provides that the district plan be adopted by the board of education at a public meeting. Respondent is reminded that the purpose of shared decisionmaking is to foster communication among all parties involved in the critical job of educating our children (Appeal of Wilson, 33 Ed Dept Rep 79, Decision No. 12982). To that end, respondent may wish to reconsider its methods of bringing the public into the process.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent conduct future biennial reviews of its shared decision making plan with a properly constituted committee in accordance with this decision and 8 NYCRR "100.11.

END OF FILE