Decision No. 14,887
Appeal of GYLL L. SBROCCHI, on behalf of her daughter SAMANTHA, from action of the Board of Education of the Half Hollow Hills Central School District regarding redistricting.
(June 19, 2003)
Siben & Siben, LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Dennis P. Rigas, Esq., of counsel
Ehrlich, Frazer & Feldman, attorneys for respondent, Sanjay B. Malhotra, Esq., of counsel
MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the redistricting plan adopted by the Board of Education of the Half Hollow Hills Central School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.
In September 2001, respondent began to consider redistricting to relieve overcrowding in some of its elementary schools and address enrollment patterns at its middle and high schools. On February 26, 2002, respondent adopted a redistricting plan that would move students, including petitioner"s daughter, from Chestnut Hill Elementary School ("Chestnut Hill") to Paumanok Elementary School ("Paumanok"). This appeal ensued. Petitioner"s request for interim relief was denied on April 16, 2002.
Petitioner contends that respondent"s action was arbitrary and capricious, that respondent failed to hire a licensed demographer and that the plan needlessly transfers her daughter and other students away from their neighborhood elementary schools. Petitioner also contends that Chestnut Hill is one-half mile from their residence, that Paumanok is more than four miles away and that the bus ride to and from Paumanok is excessive. Petitioner alleges that respondent failed to give adequate notice of meetings at which the redistricting was discussed, that respondent prevented parents from voicing their opinions at these meetings and that the meeting rooms could not fully accommodate the public. Petitioner requests that respondent"s decision to adopt the redistricting plan be reversed and that respondent be directed to reconvene hearings with provisions for full community input.
Respondent contends that it acted within its authority to adopt a reasonable plan to address uneven utilization of its facilities. Respondent asserts that it consulted experts, hired a licensed demographer and provided numerous opportunities to the public to express their concerns before adopting the redistricting plan. Respondent also asserts that it gave ample notice to the public of all its meetings, that no one was turned away from a meeting due to lack of space and that there was ample opportunity for public comment. Respondent also contends that petitioner lives approximately three miles from both Chestnut Hill and Paumanok.
Initially, I must address a procedural issue. Petitioner raises additional arguments in her memorandum of law. A memorandum of law may not be used to belatedly add new assertions that are not part of the pleadings (Appeal of T.M., 41 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,740; Appeal of D.C., 41 id. __, Decision No. 14,661; Appeal of Muench, 38 id. 649, Decision No. 14,110). Therefore, I have not considered those portions of petitioner"s memorandum of law that raise new arguments.
The appeal must be dismissed. Pursuant to Education Law "1709(3) and (33), a board of education has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Matter of Older, et al. v. Bd. of Educ., 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of Broardt, 42 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,796; Appeal of Franchese, 39 id. 285, Decision No. 14,239). In such cases, a board"s discretion is broad (see, Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383, aff"d 16 NY2d 619, cert. den. 382 US 905; Appeal of Broardt , supra; Appeal of Bluemke, et al., 39 Ed Dept Rep 447, Decision No. 14,281). Accordingly, a board"s decision to reorganize its schools will not be overturned unless it is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, supra; Appeal of Broardt, supra). Moreover, petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that respondent"s action is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Broardt, supra; Appeal of Franchese, supra).
I find that petitioner failed to meet her burden of proof. She presented no evidence with her petition and failed to establish that the redistricting plan is arbitrary, capricious or educationally unsound. Instead, she focused on respondent"s alleged failure to adequately notify the public and her preference for a redistricting alternative that would keep her daughter at her current elementary school.
Respondent submitted numerous documents supporting its position that it provided ample opportunity for public input and that its redistricting plan was reasonable. These include an October 2001 report containing enrollment analysis and projections that were prepared by a licensed demographer at respondent"s request. Respondent also hired an expert in utilization of school facilities and a company to perform mapping and real estate development projections. Based on this data, respondent determined that certain areas of the district were experiencing large population increases and others were not. According to the demographer"s report, Chestnut Hill and Sunquam Elementary School ("Sunquam") were forecasted to have the largest increases in enrollment. Chestnut Hill already lacked adequate space for music, art and physical education classes and had only limited space for special education instruction. The redistricting plan addresses the space and uneven growth issues by equalizing enrollment in all of the elementary schools.
Petitioner also complains that respondent failed to give adequate public notice of meetings or to provide a full opportunity for the public to be heard. There is no requirement in law that a board conduct a hearing upon any particular matter or grant to any person the right to be heard (Appeal of Bluemke, supra; Appeal of Aloisio, 38 id. 169, Decision No. 14,009). Therefore, any complaints about public notice or comment are not grounds to invalidate a redistricting decision. In any event, the record indicates that respondent made a concerted effort to obtain public input by holding public hearings and by receiving public comment and questions.
Respondent held 11 public meetings during January and February 2002 to discuss redistricting. Six of the meetings were special workshop meetings in which the public was invited to observe respondent discuss redistricting issues, but were not permitted to comment. At the five remaining meetings, the public was allowed to comment. These meetings were held at various sites to allow greater public participation. For example, meetings were held at the gymnasiums and the auditorium at High School East which have the capacity to accommodate 500 and 2000 people, respectively. Respondent submits copies of sheets that were used at the meetings for members of the public to sign up to address respondent. Respondent asserts that every member of the public who wished to speak at these five meetings was allowed to do so and that it responded to concerns raised by the public at these meetings. Respondent also submits copies of notices it posted at its school buildings and on its web sites, newspaper announcements and flyers sent home with students to publicize the meetings.
Based upon the record before me, I cannot conclude that respondent"s decision in this matter was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy.
THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.
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