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Decision No. 12,824

Appeal of ELIZABETH RUTLEDGE from action of the Board of Education of the Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District relating to voter propositions.

Decision No. 12,824

(October 21, 1992)

Langan Grossman Kinney Dwyer & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Susan T. Johns, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from respondent's determination to reject two petitions seeking to place propositions before the voters of the Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District. Petitioner requests that I direct that those two propositions be voted on, that a State audit be conducted, and that a formal hearing be scheduled to permit district residents to address the board of education. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner previously requested a stay order to allow certain resolutions relating to financial matters to be placed on the ballot for the annual meeting scheduled for May 20, 1992. The request for interim relief was denied.

In February 1992 and again in April, petitioner submitted various petitions to respondent and asked the board to either act upon them, or present them to the voters. The propositions contained in the petitions ranged from decreasing the number of members to serve on the board of education to shortening the term of office of members of the board of education, as well as a number of propositions intended to reduce district expenditures. These included a proposition establishing a budgetary figure for the school district for the 1992-1993 school year, propositions reducing or limiting the salaries of administrators and teachers, and propositions requiring increased contributions by district employees for health benefits. The propositions were referred to district counsel, who reviewed them and advised the board not to present any of them to the voters, except those relating to the number of members on the board of education, and the length of terms of office of those members.

This appeal was commenced on May 8, 1992. Subsequently, the district conducted an annual meeting, and the voters approved the budget proposed by respondent.

Petitioner contends that respondent was not willing to consider public input on school issues, did not consider sufficient information before voting on issues, did not provide reasons for casting its votes, and rejected financial resolutions which were within the voters' legal rights to present as propositions.

Respondent contends that the rejected petitions contained propositions which were not within the power of the voters to decide, that the adoption of the 1992-1993 budget by the voters renders the proposition relating to petitioner's budget moot, and that the petition should be dismissed because it does not "contain a clear and concise statement of the petitioner's claim showing that the petitioner is entitled to relief" and "a statement . . . sufficiently clear to advise the respondent of the nature of petitioner's claim and of the specific act or acts complained of" (8 NYCRR '275.10). Respondent also contends that this petition is not timely to review the February 13, 1992 decision to adopt an attendance zone realignment plan, or to review respondent's action of February 27, 1992 to reject ten voter propositions.

I must first address respondent's procedural defenses. 8 NYCRR '275.16 requires that an appeal be commenced within thirty days of the action complained of. Therefore, this appeal, commenced on May 8, 1992, is not timely to review actions taken in February 1991.

Moreover, since the budget presented by respondent has been approved by the voters, those issues relating to budgetary matters sought to be raised by this appeal have been rendered moot (Matter of Mitzner, 31 id. 139).

Furthermore, I find that respondent's rejection of petitioner's propositions was consistent with its legal authority and responsibility. It is beyond the authority of the voters to submit propositions to be voted on at the annual meeting which would alter the budget which the board of education must present at the annual meeting (Education Law '1716). Under the circumstances of this appeal, voting on petitioner's propositions at the annual meeting would also have been confusing, since the voters would have had before them two budgets together with various propositions which would have affected either or both of those budgets. I, therefore, conclude that respondent correctly rejected petitioner's propositions (Matter of Amsel, 28 Ed Dept Rep 406; Matter of Gang, 23 id. 118). I have considered petitioner's remaining contentions and find them without merit.