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Decision No. 13,132

Application of the BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE MIDDLE COUNTRY CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT for the removal of Andrew Solano from his position as a member of the board of education.

Decision No. 13,132

(March 10, 1994)

Pelletreau & Pelletreau, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner, Vanessa M. Sheehan, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner, the Board of Education of the Middle Country Central School District, seeks an order pursuant to Education Law '306 removing Andrew Solano ("respondent") from the board of education. The application must be denied.

Petitioner contends that respondent violated General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b) by disclosing confidential information to individuals who used that information against the district. Petitioner also maintains that respondent appeared in court and argued against the district in an application for an ex parte order. Respondent denies those allegations.

Education Law '306(1) provides that the Commissioner of Education may remove from office a member of a board of education when

... it shall be proved to his satisfaction that any ... member of a board of education, ... has been guilty of any wilful violation or neglect of duty under this chapter, or any other act pertaining to common schools or other educational institution participating in state funds, or wilfully disobeying any decision, order, rule or regulation of the regents or of the commissioner of education, ....

In an appeal to the Commissioner, the petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested (Matter of Nanni, Weston and Snyder, 23 Ed Dept Rep 444). On the record before me, petitioner has failed to sustain that burden.

Petitioner claims that respondent violated General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b) when he disclosed confidential information discussed at an August 16, 1993 executive session of the board. Specifically, petitioner alleges that respondent revealed that the board voted to authorize its negotiating agents to offer a settlement to the teachers union, and that such information was revealed to individuals who used it in a lawsuit against the district. Petitioner further contends that the disclosure of that information affected its ability to negotiate in good faith with the union.

General Municipal Law '805-1(1)(b) provides that a school board member may not disclose confidential information acquired in the performance of official duties or use such information to further his or her personal interests. While a board member's disclosure of confidential information obtained at an executive session of a board meeting would violate General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b) (Appeal of Henning and Rohrer, 33 Ed Dept Rep 232), there is no competent evidence, other than petitioner's conclusory assertions, that respondent revealed the information in question. Accordingly, there is no basis in the record for finding that respondent violated General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b).

Petitioner also contends that respondent improperly disclosed the identities of board members who participated at the August 16 meeting and executive session. Such information was allegedly revealed by respondent in connection with a proceeding in Supreme Court, Suffolk County, brought to determine if one of the members of petitioner board had violated a temporary restraining order issued by that court. However, information identifying members who participated at a board meeting and executive session is not confidential, but rather a matter of public interest (see Appeal of Henning and Rohrer, supra). Consequently, even if respondent had revealed such information, his action would not warrant removal from office.

Petitioner also maintains that respondent should be removed because he appeared in court on two occasions to advocate on behalf of individuals bringing a lawsuit against the district. Respondent admits that he appeared in court, but only as a spectator, and denies that he advocated any position before the court. Again, petitioner offers no proof, other than its conclusory assertions, to support its position. Accordingly, petitioner's allegations are unsupported and do not justify respondent's removal.