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Decision No. 15,528

Appeal of RICHARD L. FROST from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Olean regarding a school closing.

Decision No. 15,528

(February 14, 2007)

Hodgson Russ LLP, attorneys for respondent, Karl Kristoff, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the decision of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Olean (“respondent”) to close one of its elementary schools.  The appeal must be dismissed.

On March 21, 2006, respondent adopted the recommendation of its superintendent to close the North Hill Elementary School (“North Hill”).  Petitioner commenced this appeal, asserting that respondent acted improperly in closing the school.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on May 3, 2006.

Petitioner’s claim must be viewed within the context of the documents he introduced as evidence.  First, petitioner cites a 1908 newspaper article which describes the dissolution of North Olean Union Free School District No. 3 and its annexation to Olean Union Free School District No. 1 in that year.  In his appeal, petitioner states that when the Village of North Olean was annexed to the City of Olean in 1909, the village “wanted to ensure that North Olean always had a school.”  As evidence of this claim, he cites the city’s 1911 charter, which provides, “Nothing in this act contained shall alter or change the territorial limits of union free school district number one of the town of Olean, and such school district shall remain as though this act had not been passed.”[1]  Petitioner also alleges that the superintendent has a conflict of interest.

Respondent contends that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.  Respondent asserts that petitioner makes no claim that its decision to close North Hill violated any relevant law or regulation and maintains that its decision was rational and within its discretion.

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of Hoey and Kosowski, 45 Ed Dept Rep 501, Decision No. 15,394; Application of Bliss, 45 id. 308, Decision No. 15,331; Appeal of Rubinstein, 45 id. 299, Decision No. 15,329).

Decisions about school district reorganization and the closing of school buildings are within the discretion of a board of education and will not be set aside unless they are shown to lack a rational basis (Appeal of Bailey, et al., 45 Ed Dept Rep 270, Decision No. 15,318; Appeal of Wong, et al., 42 id. 269, Decision No. 14,850; Appeal of Patashnick, 39 id. 236, Decision No. 14,225).  Pursuant to Education Law §§2503(1), 1709(3) and 1709(33), a board of education of a city school district has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein.  In such cases, a board’s discretion is broad (Matter of Older, et al. v. Bd. Of Educ., 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of Bailey, et al., 45 Ed Dept Rep 270, Decision No. 15,318; Appeal of Wong, et al., 42 id. 269, Decision No. 14,850).  Accordingly, a board’s decision to reorganize its schools will not be overturned unless it is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Bailey, et al., 45 Ed Dept Rep 270, Decision No. 15,318; Appeal of Wong, et al., 42 id. 269, Decision No. 14,850; Appeal of Patashnick, 39 id. 236, Decision No. 14,225).

According to respondent’s district clerk, prior to accepting the superintendent’s recommendation to close North Hill, respondent fully complied with Education Law §402-a, including publishing required notices and conducting public meetings.  Based on the record before me, I find that petitioner has failed to prove that respondent’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

With respect to his claim that respondent is obligated to permanently maintain a school in the area currently served by North Hill, I find that petitioner has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which he seeks relief.  In addition to the 1908 newspaper article and excerpts from the 1911 city charter, petitioner introduced as evidence a warranty deed (dated February 18, 1882) in which property was conveyed to the trustees of “School District No. 3,” three property maps, recordings of the public meetings held on the closing of North Hill, and a 2006 newspaper article written by the superintendent on the school closing.  None of these documents establish that respondent is obligated to keep North Hill Elementary School open, nor do they support petitioner’s contention that respondent acted illegally in deciding to close North Hill.

I have considered petitioner’s remaining contentions and find them without merit.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

[1] Petitioner contends that there exists a 1908 “school charter” that would serve as additional evidence in support of his claim.  However, petitioner has not produced this document.  Respondent submitted an affidavit from its district clerk stating that a diligent search of the district’s records revealed no such document.  The State Education Department has no records related to the 1908 dissolution of North Olean Union Free School District No. 3 and its annexation to Olean Union Free School District No. 1.  It is believed that any such records were destroyed in a fire at the State Capitol in 1911.