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Decision No. 12,916

Appeal of SHARON AND PETER BEARUP from action of John E. Sackett, District Superintendent of the Sole Supervisory District of Rensselaer-Columbia-Greene Counties, and the Board of Education of the Berlin Central School District regarding a school district boundary.

Decision No. 12,916

(April 21, 1993)

Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, attorneys for respondents John E. Sackett and the Board of Education of the Berlin Central School District, Heather D. Diddel, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners, residents of Babcock Lake, appeal from the determination of respondent John E. Sackett, District Superintendent of the Rensselaer-Columbia-Greene Supervisory District. Respondent Sackett's decision affirmed the decision of the Board of Education of the Berlin Central School District rejecting petitioners' request for a boundary alteration that would have transferred petitioners' property to the Hoosick Falls Central School District. The appeal is dismissed.

In October 1989, petitioners petitioned the Hoosick Falls and Berlin Boards of Education to obtain their consent to a boundary alteration which would transfer petitioners' property to the Hoosick Falls Central School District. Petitioners contended that the Hoosick Falls schools were closer to the Babcock Lake community and that community ties would be strengthened if all children attended the same schools. The Hoosick Falls Board of Education consented to the boundary alteration. The Berlin Board declined to do so. Petitioners then appealed to District Superintendent Sackett, who refused to disturb Berlin's decision. Petitioners appealed the District Superintendent's decision to the Commissioner. Finding that District Superintendent Sackett's determination had been made without a thorough factual analysis, the Commissioner remanded the matter for further consideration (Appeal of Bearup, 30 Ed Dept Rep 340). On May 16, 1991, District Superintendent Sackett reaffirmed the decision of the Berlin Board of Education. This appeal followed.

Petitioners allege that the present school district boundary, which was set in 1956 when no year-round families lived on the lake, divides the lake's school age children between the Berlin Central School District and the Hoosick Falls Central School District. They claim that their children's education would be enhanced if they were allowed to attend Hoosick's single school rather than being split among Berlin's three elementary schools and junior and senior high schools. The assert that attending only one school would enable their children to feel less isolated from other students who also reside on Babcock Lake. They further point out that three different bus routes currently travel the narrow dirt road around Babcock Lake twice per day, which creates both a safety hazard for students and an adverse environmental impact on the area. They assert that altering the boundaries would remedy this problem by reducing the required bus routes to one. Petitioners also contend that Berlin's transportation costs would be reduced and lengthy waiting times and bus rides shortened for students if the alteration was made. Finally, petitioners assert that Hoosick Falls has a lower dropout rate than Berlin, offers more extracurricular activities and has higher student achievement scores.

Respondents argue that the district superintendent's decision was proper and should be upheld unless the Commissioner determines it is arbitrary or capricious. They contend that even if petitioners could demonstrate that their children are socially isolated or subjected to longer bus routes, such factors do not constitute a basis for granting the relief requested. Likewise, respondents assert that parental choice is not a legitimate basis to alter school district boundaries. Finally, respondents contend that the alteration of the boundary is not, as petitioners assert, in the best interests of the children because it will result in a substantial loss of revenue to the Berlin School District.

In an appeal before the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of Parrish, 32 Ed Dept Rep 261; Application of Verity, 31 id. 485; Appeal of Singh, 30 id. 284). The determination of a district superintendent will not be set aside unless it was either arbitrary and capricious or not in the best educational interests of the children involved (Appeal of Bearup, supra; Appeal of Salerni, 27 id. 393). In deciding whether a district boundary should be altered, the educational interests of the children are paramount (Appeal of Bearup, supra). The district superintendent must, therefore, consider the interests of the children seeking the transfer as well as the effect the transfer would have on tax revenues and the educational programs of the school district from which property would be transferred (Appeal of Morrison, 22 id. 425).

On the record before me, it appears that respondent Sackett carefully considered and analyzed each of petitioners' claims, providing a sufficient rationale for his findings. With respect to petitioners' contention that their children would be closer to school if the boundaries were changed, the proximity of the schools cannot be the sole basis for drawing school district boundaries (Matter of Cooper, 15 Ed Dept Rep 293). Indeed, even where a student has a lengthy bus ride to and from school, this does not constitute a sufficient hardship to require the alteration of boundaries (Matter of Morrison, supra). Moreover, despite petitioners' urging, the record does not establish that there would be a substantial savings in either the travel time or waiting time if the boundaries were redrawn.

Concerning petitioners' assertion that the Babcock Lake students are isolated from each other because they attend different schools, the Commissioner has held that geographic isolation provides the basis for a boundary alteration only when the isolation results from an unanticipated external event or historical accident (Appeal of Kosnick, 25 Ed Dept Rep 466; Matter of Dykeman, 21 id. 241, judgmt grtd dis pet Matter of Dykeman v. Ambach, et al., Albany Co Sup Ct, 2/4/82, n.o.r; Matter of Cooper, supra). The boundary under review has existed since 1956 and, thus, any isolation the students may experience would not be the result of an unanticipated event or historical accident. Furthermore, petitioners offer only conclusory statements that without the boundary alteration, their children will be isolated from other children attending respondent school district. Isolation from one's peers is not sufficient reason to alter boundaries (Matter of Morrison, supra).

Petitioners assert that altering the boundaries would serve their children's educational interests because the Hoosick Falls Central School District has enhanced extracurricular opportunities, lower dropout rates and higher test scores. Although petitioners have failed to present evidence to support their claims, even if proven, parental preference is also an insufficient reason to alter boundaries (Matter of Kosnick, supra).

In deciding whether to grant a boundary alteration, the paramount consideration is the educational interests of all children involved (Matter of Imbrosciano, 28 Ed Dept Rep 563; Matter of Salerni, supra). Although petitioners characterize their proposed boundary alteration as having a negligible effect on respondent's school district tax rate, the record reflects that this alteration would reduce the tax levy in respondent's district by approximately one percent. These revenues have been part of the tax base in respondent's district for many years, and the loss of revenues would inevitably adversely affect students and programs in respondent district. Given the negative impact on respondent's programs and the speculative nature of petitioners' claims, the appeal must be dismissed.