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Decision No. 14,668

Appeal of the BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE STAMFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT from action of the Board of Education of the Sidney Central School District regarding foster care tuition reimbursement.

Appeal of the BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE STAMFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT from action of the Board of Education of the Sidney Central School District regarding foster care tuition reimbursement.

Decision No. 14, 668

(December 17, 2001)

Hogan & Sarzynski, LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Wendy K. DeWind, Esq., of counsel

Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Colleen Walsh Heinrich, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--In two separate appeals, petitioner challenges the refusal of the Board of Education of the Sidney Central School District ("respondent") to provide full reimbursement for two foster care students who were placed in petitioner"s district at various times during the 2000-2001 school year. Because the appeals present identical facts and legal issues, they are consolidated for decision. The appeals must be sustained.

The records reflect that two children, T.S. and R.H., were residents of respondent"s district when they were placed by the Delaware County Department of Social Services in foster homes within petitioner"s district. On or about July 5, 2000, T.S. was enrolled in petitioner"s schools pursuant to a Social Services foster care placement. R.H. was similarly placed in petitioner"s schools on or about January 2, 2001.

By letter dated May 25, 2001, petitioner presented respondent with a tuition bill for T.S. in the amount of $15,366.31. This amount included T.S." summer school enrollment from July 5, 2000 through August 14, 2000 and her enrollment during the regular school year, September 4, 2000 through June 13, 2001. In a separate letter, also dated May 25, 2001, petitioner presented respondent with a tuition bill for R.H. in the amount of $5,821.56, for the period of January 2, 2001 through June 13, 2001. In separate letters dated June 18, 2001, petitioner again requested payment from respondent for students T.S. and R.H., pursuant to its letters of May 25, 2001. Together with a letter dated July 10, 2001, respondent sent petitioner a check in the amount of $7,422.87. Respondent"s letter indicated that "[t]his represents payment of the 2000-2001 tuition for [T.S.] of $15,366.31, [R.H.] for $5,821.56, less the open claim we have with Stamford Central School [petitioner] for non-resident tuition in the amount of $13,765." This appeal ensued.

Petitioner alleges that respondent owes it $7,943.44 for services rendered to T.S. during the 2000-2001 school year (i.e., $15,366.31 total tuition bill for T.S. less $7,422.87 payment) and $5,821.56 for services rendered to R.H. during that same school year. The combined amount of these two claims is $13,765.00. Respondent asserts that petitioner has been fully reimbursed and that the petitions should therefore be dismissed in their entirety.

Respondent"s claim that it has fully reimbursed petitioner is based on its assertion that it had an open tuition reimbursement claim against petitioner in the amount of $13,765. Respondent alleges that petitioner owed it $13,765 for the education of three students, whose original district of residence was within petitioner"s school district, who were placed in respondent"s schools pursuant to a Social Services foster care placement during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years. Accordingly, respondent added petitioner"s claims for T.S. and R.H. together (for a sum of $21,187.87) and then offset its payment to petitioner by the amount it believes petitioner owed it ($13,765). Respondent thus claims that it fully reimbursed petitioner when it remitted the difference between those amounts (i.e., $7,422.87). In its answer, respondent presents a counterclaim. While respondent"s papers do not specifically articulate the nature or the amount of that counterclaim, it apparently relates to the $13,765 respondent believes petitioner owes it.

Respondent"s counterclaim, that petitioner owes it $13,765 for the education of three students during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years, must be dismissed as untimely. An appeal to the Commissioner pursuant to Education Law "310 must be commenced within 30 days of the act or decision complained of, unless excused for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16). Claims for foster care tuition payments pursuant to Education Law "3202(4)(a) relating to a particular school year become due at the completion of that school year, and an appeal to the Commissioner must be commenced within 30 days of the end of the school year (Appeal of the Board of Education of the Town of Webb Union Free School District, 40 Ed Dept Rep ___, Decision No. 14,524; Appeal of the Sole Trustee of the Hickory-South Mountain Common School District No. 1, 38 id. 577, Decision No. 14,097; Appeal of the Board of Educationof the Hilton Central School District, 38 id. 497, Decision No. 14,079). Here, the three students at issue were enrolled in respondent"s schools on or about July 30, 1997. By invoice dated July 21, 1998, respondent billed petitioner $8,985 for the education of those three students. By letter dated August 4, 1999, petitioner denied respondent"s claim for tuition reimbursement, citing "major discrepancies concerning the attendance dates" of the three students. Petitioner"s letter was a clear denial of the request and did not seek further information concerning the attendance dates from respondent. Almost two years later, by letter and invoice dated April 30, 2001, respondent wrote to petitioner attempting to clarify the attendance date discrepancies and again seeking payment of $8,985 for the 1997-98 school year, plus an additional $4,780 for the 1998-99 school year, for a total of $13,765. By letter dated May 16, 2001, petitioner again denied respondent"s claim for reimbursement. If it believed itself aggrieved, respondent was required to commence an appeal for petitioner"s failure to reimburse it for the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years within 30 days of the end of each of those school years (see, Appeal of the Board of Education of the Town of Webb Union Free School District, supra; Appeal of the Sole Trustee of the Hickory-South Mountain Common School District No. 1, supra; Appeal of the Board of Education of the Hilton Central School District, supra). Respondent"s assertion that its offset "was appropriate in light of the ongoing negotiations and request for further information by [petitioner] and [petitioner"s] failure to pay" is unavailing. Respondent"s counterclaim is therefore dismissed. Accordingly, respondent had no legal basis to offset its tuition reimbursement payment to petitioner.

Respondent does not deny that it owed petitioner a combined total of $21,187.87 for the education of T.S. and R.H. In fact, the letter accompanying respondent"s partial payment to petitioner stated: "[t]his represents payment of the 2000-2001 tuition for [T.S.] of $15,366.31, [R.H.] for $5,821.56..." (for a total of $21,187.87). Rather, respondent unilaterally offset the $21,187.87 it admittedly owed by the $13,765 to which it believed it was entitled. As noted above, however, respondent had no legal basis to support such offset. Accordingly, petitioner is entitled to tuition reimbursement from respondent in the amount of $13,765 (i.e., the total claim for T.S. and R.H."s tuition for the 2000-2001 school year [$21,187.87] less the amount already remitted by respondent [$7,422.87]).

THE APPEALS ARE SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that the Board of Education of the Sidney Central School District pay to the Stamford Central School District the amount of $13,765.

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