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Decision No. 13,164

Appeal of DENISE BURNETT, LAURIE CAVES, GINA EKLUND, and PATRICIA WELLS from action of the Board of Education of the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District relating to school reorganization.

Decision No. 13,164

(April 29, 1994)

Wayne A. Vander Byl, Esq., attorney for petitioners

Sayles, Evans, Brayton, Palmer & Tifft, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, James F. Young, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners, parents of children enrolled in the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District, or residents thereof, appeal the decision of the board of education ("respondent") to reconfigure its schools by eliminating two kindergarten through fifth grade elementary schools and creating a pre-kindergarten through kindergarten school, a first through second grade school and a third through fifth grade school. The appeal must be dismissed.

On November 28, 1990, respondent received a study of its school buildings done by an engineering and architectural firm. On January 24, 1991, the superintendent, relying upon the engineering study and enrollment projections, demonstrated to respondent the need for a long-range plan for the school district. On at least five occasions between March 20, 1991 and February 3, 1993, teachers and administrators of the district presented options to the board of education for use of various school buildings. Between May 25, 1993 and June 22, 1993, over 50 group presentations were made by board of education members or administrators at which the reorganization was discussed. On October 6, 1993, respondent held a public meeting to discuss the reorganization. At this meeting, board members, the superintendent, two elementary principals and a school psychologist made presentations concerning the proposed reorganization. On October 20 and again on December 1, 1993, a committee of respondent board met with a committee of parents opposed to the reorganization. On December 15, 1993, respondent approved the reorganization. This appeal followed.

Petitioners contend that respondent's reconfiguration plan is not in the best educational interests of the students. In particular, they assert that requiring students to transfer schools three times in their elementary years will cause psychological harm to those students. They also claim respondent failed to conduct adequate studies prior to approving the plan, that there was insufficient analysis of the space available to implement the plan, that the reorganization is unnecessary due to declining enrollment, that the faculty was not involved in assessing the effect of the plan on instruction and that alternative plans were not considered. Respondent denies these allegations and contends that its plan is in the best educational interests of the students, that the public had numerous opportunities to be heard and that a thorough study was completed before the decision was made.

A board of education has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Appeal of Parrish, et al., 32 Ed Dept Rep 261; Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Education , 27 NY2d 333). In such cases, a board's discretion is broad (Appeal of Parrish, supra; Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383, aff'd 16 NY2d 619, cert den 382 US 905). Accordingly, a board's decision to reorganize its schools will not be overturned unless it is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, supra; Appeal of Parrish, supra).

The record in this case shows that respondent began evaluating its reorganization options three years prior to adopting the proposal at issue and thoroughly analyzed the needs of the district. Furthermore, school administrators, teachers and community members were provided with many opportunities to discuss their suggestions for and voice any objections to the proposed reorganization. With regard to transportation, the record demonstrates that under the reorganization no student would be required to ride a school bus for longer than they currently ride and that the proposed purchase of two additional buses would actually make transportation more efficient under the new plan. In view of the time devoted to studying the issue, and the record of involvement of administrators, teachers and community members, I find that respondent's determination was based upon careful consideration of the facts and issues and, therefore, was neither arbitrary nor capricious.

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, supra; Appeal of Verity, 31 Ed Dept Rep 485; Appeal of Singh, 30 id. 284). Petitioners offer conclusory statements and one psychologist's assertion that the reconfiguration will psychologically harm elementary school age students. Since petitioners' claim is based substantially on speculation and petitioners have presented insufficient concrete evidence to support it, their claim of psychological harm must also be dismissed.

I have reviewed petitioners' remaining claims and find them without merit.