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Decision No. 17,004

Appeal of BETH ANNE TAMBURRINO, on behalf her daughter ANGELINA, from action of the Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District regarding a school district boundary.

Decision No. 17,004

(November 30, 2016)

Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Erin R. Morris, Esq., of counsel.

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District (“Mohonasen” or “district”) denying petitioner’s request to enroll her daughter in the district.  The appeal must be dismissed.

According to petitioner, she and her daughter live “within the Mohonasen School District.”[1]  By letter dated June 15, 2015, petitioner notified Mohonasen that, pursuant to Education Law §3203, she was designating Mohonasen as the school district her daughter would attend commencing in the 2016-2017 school year.[2]  By letter dated December 1, 2015, Mohonasen’s superintendent advised petitioner that the district had determined that petitioner’s property was located entirely within the Schenectady City School District (“Schenectady”) and that such determination was the district’s final determination of her residency.  The superintendent explained that Mohonasen had no evidence that the boundary line between Mohonasen and Schenectady intersected petitioner’s property and that “[t]he fact that the boundary ‘coincides’ with your boundary, does not equate to a ‘dissection.’”  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on January 5, 2016.

Petitioner asserts that she resides within Mohonasen and that, pursuant to Education Law §3203(1), she designated Mohonasen as her daughter’s school district.  She seeks a determination that she is a resident of Mohonasen and that her daughter is entitled to attend Mohonasen schools without payment of tuition.

Respondent contends, inter alia, that the appeal should be dismissed as premature, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, failure to join the district superintendent and failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

The appeal must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party.  A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  Petitioner asserts that her property is intersected by Mohonasen.  The record indicates that Schenectady collects the property tax on petitioner’s property.  If petitioner prevails, Education Law §3203(2) would require Schenectady to pay such property taxes to respondent as the district designated to provide instructional services to petitioner’s daughter.  Inasmuch as Schenectady would be adversely affected by a decision in favor of petitioner, it is a necessary party to the appeal and petitioner’s failure to join it requires dismissal (Appeal of Minard, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,529).

Even if the appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, it would be dismissed on the merits.  Petitioner claims that her property is within Mohonasen, lies on the border between Mohonasen and Schenectady or intersects Mohonasen.  As noted above, respondent determined that petitioner’s property was located entirely within Schenectady.

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 Aversa, 48 Ed Dept Rep 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884; Appeal of P.M., 48 id. 348, Decision No. 15,882).

To support her claim, petitioner submits two tax maps[3] and a map obtained from the website Cropper Map.[4]  However, the maps are not consistent in indicating the relationship between the school district boundary and petitioner’s property boundary.  The tax map showing petitioner’s property indicates that the school district boundary line is concurrent with – but does not intersect - petitioner’s property boundary, with all of petitioner’s property located in Schenectady.  The map from Cropper Map provides insufficient detail to definitively ascertain the location of petitioner’s property in relation to Mohonasen’s boundary.  On this record, therefore, I cannot conclude that petitioner has met her burden of establishing that her property is within the district (see Appeal of Roberts, 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,958; see e.g. Appeal of Minard, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,529).

Nor has petitioner established that “the boundary line between two school districts intersects” her property, which she must do to effect a valid designation under Education Law §3203(1) (Crowe, et al. v. MacFarland, et al., 138 AD2d 788; Appeal of Board of Education of the Harborfields Central School District, 41 Ed Dept Rep 15, Decision No 14,597; Appeal of Board of Education of the Syosset Central School District, 38 id. 791, Decision No. 14,144; aff’d, Bd. of Ed. Oyster Bay-East Norwich C.S.D. v. Mills, Sup. Ct., Albany Co. [Sheridan, J.], January 31, 2000).

Education Law §3203(1) provides:

The owner of taxable property that is so located that the boundary line between two school districts intersects (a) the dwelling on said property or (b), in the case of an owner-occupied single family dwelling unit, the property on which the dwelling unit is located may designate the school in either of such districts to which the children lawfully residing in said dwelling on said property shall attend by filing with the district clerk of each of such districts a notice of such designation on or before August first in any year and thereafter ... and, until a subsequent designation shall be made and filed, such children shall be deemed to be resident children of the district designated and shall be entitled to the school privileges of such district as resident pupils without the payment of tuition.

To effect a valid designation under Education Law §3203(1), petitioner must establish that “the boundary line between two school districts intersects” their property (Crowe, et al. v. MacFarland, et al., 138 AD2d 788; Appeal of Board of Education of the Harborfields Central School District, 41 Ed Dept Rep 15, Decision No 14,597; Appeal of Board of Education of the Syosset Central School District, 38 id. 791, Decision No. 14,144; aff’d, Bd. of Ed. Oyster Bay-East Norwich C.S.D. v. Mills, Sup. Ct., Albany Co. [Sheridan, J.], January 31, 2000).

Assuming, arguendo, that petitioner’s property line “lies on the border” between Mohonasen and Schenectady as petitioner claims, in order to effect a valid designation under Education Law §3203(1), petitioner must, nevertheless, demonstrate that the school district boundary line actually intersects petitioner’s property.  Although petitioner’s property line may be aligned with the border between the school districts, such does not constitute an intersection of petitioner’s property.  Accordingly, I find that petitioner has failed to carry her burden of proof (see e.g. Appeal of Minard, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,529).

I note that respondent claims that the maps relied upon by petitioner are not authoritative sources of school district boundary information or do not show that petitioner’s property is outside the boundary of Mohonasen.  I also note that, in her reply, petitioner states that she did not contact the district superintendent because she does not wish to challenge or change her boundary; rather she believes that her boundary is accurate and there is no dispute regarding her boundary.  Pursuant to Education Law §2215(1), the district superintendent of schools shall ascertain whether the school district boundaries within his or her supervisory district are “definitely and plainly described” in the office of the proper town clerk.  To the extent the boundary location is uncertain, the appropriate district superintendent of schools may determine where the boundary properly lies.  If there is no order presently filed in the office of the appropriate town clerk, the district superintendent will provide such order in accordance with the provisions of Education Law §2215(1) (see Matter of Horowitz, 9 Ed Dept Rep 82, Decision No. 8,071).

Finally, to the extent petitioner claims that Mohonasen has admitted Schenectady residents in the past, such action does not bind or estop the district from making a different determination in this case (see e.g., Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779).  It is well settled that equitable estoppel does not apply against a governmental subdivision except in limited circumstances not applicable here (Parkview Assoc. v. City of New York, 71 NY2d 274; Hamptons Hosp. and Medical Center v. Moore, et al., 52 NY2d 88; Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779).

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

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

 

[1] Petitioner also states, in Exhibit E to the petition, that the “Monohasen School District intersects [her] property on the south side.” In addition, in Exhibit F to the petition, petitioner lists other addresses on the same street as her property and states that the “Mohonasen School District boundary runs along the southern border of these properties.”  She further states that such properties are “in like circumstances” to her property.

 

[2] I note that the record indicates that petitioner’s daughter was born in July 2012.  Pursuant to Education Law §3202(1), she is not of compulsory school age until the 2017-2018 school year.

 

[3] The petition that was filed with my Office of Counsel included, as an attachment to Exhibit F, a tax map showing other properties on the same street as petitioner’s property. The parties disagree as to whether such map was included in the petition served upon respondent.  Petitioner relies on the map to support her assertion that the district boundary runs along the southern border of such properties, that school-aged children residing at such properties attend district schools and that such properties are “in like circumstances” to her property.  Respondent addressed this issue by raising equitable estoppel in its answer as an affirmative defense and in its memorandum of law.  The failure to serve a single exhibit does not, by itself, affect the service of the rest of the petition and/or require its dismissal (see Appeal of White, 50 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,239; cf. Appeal of Koehler, 46 id. 425, Decision No. 15,553).  Under the circumstances, I find that respondent was not denied a meaningful opportunity to respond to the contents of the tax map and will not dismiss the appeal on this basis.

 

[4] See www.croppermap.com/schenectady.  Respondent asserts that this map was created by Schenectady, purports to redistrict attendance zones, and has no bearing on the actual boundary line between Mohonasen and Schenectady.