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Decision No. 14,568

Appeal of TANYA MARQUETTE, FRED BUNT, MARGARET WADE-LEWIS, SUSAN ZIMET and KATE HYMES-FLANAGAN from action of the Board of Education of the New Paltz Central School District regarding shared decisionmaking.

Decision No. 14,568

(April 27, 2001)

Shaw & Perelson, LLP, attorneys for respondent, David S. Shaw and Jennifer M. Cottrell, Esqs., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners challenge actions of the Board of Education of the New Paltz Central School District ("respondent") regarding the selection of community representatives for the District-wide Committee established pursuant to the district’s Plan for Shared Decisionmaking (the "Plan"). The appeal must be sustained.

Petitioners are district residents who participated in the initial formulation of the Plan. The Plan establishes a District-wide Committee composed of the superintendent, one board of education member, a building principal, a central office administrator, a teacher from each building, two parents, two students, a support staff member and six community resource representatives. The Plan provides that members serve two-year terms that expire on June 30 and sets forth the selection method for representatives from each identified stakeholder group. For example, teacher representatives are to be selected by the teachers’ collective bargaining unit, parents by the parent-teacher associations and students by the student council officers. The Plan states that "Community representatives shall be selected through a process initiated by the District-wide Committee that will ensure broad-based participation from the community." The record does not indicate what process the District-wide Committee initiated to choose its original community representatives.

The District-wide Committee apparently became inactive. Petitioners state that "despite repeated requests" the Committee did not meet after September 1999. By letter dated June 1, 2000, petitioner Marquette and three other residents asked respondent’s president to help them reconvene the Committee, noting that it had not met all year. Evidently the Committee did not reconvene. The terms of then-current Committee members expired on June 30, 2000.

Respondent submitted an affidavit from Superintendent Derry stating that, at respondent’s direction, he placed advertisements in a local newspaper seeking new community representatives to serve on the Committee. The advertisements ran on October 5 and October 12, 2000. By letter to Mr. Derry dated October 10, 2000, petitioner Marquette and several other Committee members objected to this selection method. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners claim that respondent failed to comply with the Plan when it solicited community representatives through newspaper advertisements. They ask me to order respondent to abandon its selection process, convene the Committee and direct that it initiate a selection process in compliance with the Plan.

Respondent contends that the appeal is untimely and petitioners lack standing. Respondent further argues that, because the former Committee members allowed their terms to expire on June 30, 2000, without designating new members, there were no active members who could initiate a selection process for new community representatives. Accordingly, respondent asserts, newspaper advertisements provided the only "fair and effective way to revitalize the community resources component" of the Committee.

Before turning to the merits, I will address a number of procedural matters. The purpose of a reply is to respond to procedural defenses or new material contained in an answer (8 NYCRR ""275.3 and 275.14). A reply is not meant to buttress allegations in the petition or to belatedly add assertions or exhibits that should have been in the petition (Appeal of Balen, 40 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,532; Application of McCart, et al., 39 id. 534, Decision No. 14,302; Appeal of Breud, et al., 38 id. 748, Decision No. 14,133). Although I will accept petitioners' reply, I will not consider those portions that contain new allegations that are not responsive to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in the answer.

An appeal to the Commissioner of Education must be brought within 30 days of the making of the decision or performance of the act complained of unless excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16). The petition was served on November 9, 2000, within 30 days of the appearance of the October 12 newspaper advertisement. Moreover, I previously have found that appointment of representatives to a district-level shared decisionmaking team, if unlawful, is a continuing wrong (Appeal of Sadue-Sokolow, 39 Ed Dept Rep 6, Decision No. 14,155). Accordingly, I will not dismiss the appeal as untimely.

Nor will I dismiss it for lack of standing. As previous Commissioner’s decisions have recognized, a party may maintain an appeal pursuant to Education Law "310 if that party is aggrieved in the sense that he or she has suffered damage or injury to his or her civil, personal or property rights (Appeal of Allen and Wong, 40 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,501; Appeal of Murphy, et al., 39 id. 562, Decision No. 14,311.) The purpose of shared decisionmaking is to foster communication among all parties involved in the critical job of educating our children (Appeal of Trombley, 39 Ed Dept Rep 115, Decision No. 14,189). Petitioners are district residents who have an interest in ensuring that shared decisionmaking is carried out according to the Plan.

Turning to the merits, my review of the plain language of the Plan supports petitioners’ contention that respondent has violated the Plan by failing to allow Committee members to select community representatives (see, Appeal of Greenburgh Eleven Federation of Teachers, 35 Ed Dept Rep 307, Decision No. 13,551). The section of respondent's Plan governing the District-wide Committee provides a method for the selection of each stakeholder group’s representatives. The Plan then authorizes the Committee to initiate a procedure for selecting community representatives. Respondent asserts that the expiration of former members’ terms required it to select new community representatives for the next Committee. This interpretation is not consistent with the procedure for selecting members set forth in the Plan. The record does not indicate whether or in what manner selection of new Committee members other than community representatives was made. Respondent must, therefore, convene any duly selected members of the District-wide Committee to initiate a procedure for selection of community representatives consistent with the Plan.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that within 30 days of the date of this decision, respondent convene any duly selected members of the District-wide Committee for the purpose of initiating a procedure for the selection of community representatives consistent with the district’s Plan for Shared Decisionmaking.

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