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Decision No. 16,509

Appeal of DANIEL C. MONOHAN, GRACE OSBORNE and RONALD EDWARDS from action of former superintendent Joyce Caputo, interim superintendent Gene Beirne, and board member Vicki Coffin Judd of the Mohawk Central School District; superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, and business manager Kenneth Long of theIlion Central School District; and board member Diann Fischer of the Herkimer Central School District regarding a school district reorganization vote.

Decision No. 16,509

(July 25, 2013)

Harris Beach, PLLC, attorneys for respondents Caputo, Beirne and Coffin Judd, Douglas Gerhardt, Esq., of counsel

Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondents Tangorra, Long and Fischer, Benjamin J. Ferrara and Craig M. Atlas, Esqs., of counsel

KING, JR., Commissioner.--Petitioners Monohan, Osborne and Edwards are residents of the Mohawk, Ilion, and Herkimer Central School Districts, respectively. They challenge certain actions by former superintendent Joyce Caputo, interim superintendent Gene Beirne, and board member Vicki Coffin Judd of the Mohawk Central School District, superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, and business manager Kenneth Long of the Ilion Central School District and board member Diann Fischer of the Herkimer Central School District (“respondents”) in relation to a proposed reorganization of the Ilion, Mohawk and Herkimer Central School Districts into a single central school district. The appeal must be dismissed.

On September 21, 2012, I issued an order, pursuant to Article 37 of the Education Law, reorganizing the three school districts and laying out the Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk Central School District. Prior to issuing the order, a feasibility study was completed to provide information on which to determine whether to centralize the three districts. The feasibility study included information about the degree of public support for centralization and, specifically, referenced a straw vote – or advisory vote -in which voters in each district approved the proposed centralization.

Upon issuance of the September 21, 2012 centralization order, a statutory vote of the qualified voters of the districts was scheduled for October 18, 2012, as required by Education Law §§1801(4), 1802(1)(b) and 1803-a. As a result, the voters in the Ilion and Mohawk Central School Districts approved the proposed centralization, but voters in the Herkimer Central School District voted against it.

Petitioners challenge respondents’ actions in relation to the straw vote held as part of the centralization process, alleging, inter alia, impermissible exhortation of the voters to approve the proposed centralization, improper use of district resources to facilitate the centralization and certain conflicts of interest. As relief, petitioners seek nullification of the straw vote and any petitions filed as part of the centralization process, as well as nullification of any resulting centralization of the Ilion, Mohawk and Herkimer Central School Districts.

Respondents assert that the appeal is untimely, as well as moot, and that petitioners failed to join necessary parties as respondents in the appeal. Respondents maintain that they did not improperly exhort voters or misuse district resources in relation to the straw vote, nor did any irregularity that might have occurred affect the outcome of the statutory vote on October 18, 2012. Finally, respondents assert that no prohibited conflict of interest existed with respect to their actions.

The appeal must be dismissed as moot. The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest(Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 Ed Dept Rep 532,Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937; Appeal of Embro, 48 id. 204, Decision No.15,836). On October 18, 2012, voters of the Herkimer Central School District failed to approve centralization of the Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk Central School Districts. Subsequently, on December 14, 2012, I issued an order, pursuant to Education Law §§305, 314 and Article 37,rescinding the prior September 21, 2012 order laying out the Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk Central School District. Petitioners’ claims relating to any action taken in connection with the straw vote as part of that centralization process, therefore, are academic. The relief sought by petitioners - nullification of the straw vote and any subsequent centralization of the three districts - is also moot.

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.