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Decision No. 13,329

Appeal of ANGELA MEYER, JACQUELINE MILTON and MARYANN WECKERLE from action of the Board of Education of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District relating to its shared decisionmaking plan.

Decision No. 13,329

(January 10, 1995)

Cahn, Wishod & Lamb, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Eugene R. Barnosky, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the submission to the State Education Department ("SED") by the Board of Education of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District ("respondent") of a revised shared decisionmaking plan. Petitioners allege that respondent violated the Commissioner's regulations by unilaterally revising the districtwide committee's proposed plan. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners, three representatives of the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA), are also parents of children attending school in respondent's district. Consistent with Commissioner's regulation '100.11, respondent established a districtwide committee ("the committee") to develop a shared decisionmaking plan ("the plan"). After several meetings, the committee presented respondent with its draft plan. It provided for representation by teachers, parents, students, support staff and community members. The plan also provided that members of site-based teams would be selected by their stakeholder organizations and community representatives would be selected by the teams.

On January 31, 1994, respondent met to adopt its plan and modified the plan submitted by the committee to provide that parent representatives on the site-based teams would be selected from among all parents of children attending the school, regardless of their membership in the PTA. Specifically, the plan respondent ultimately adopted provided that:

parent members of the site-based teams shall be selected by their peers via associated stakeholder organizations. Membership in a parent stakeholder organization shall not be required to participate in the selection process. Each and every individual parent stakeholder shall have the equal right and opportunity to serve on the site-based team(s) and to participate equally in the selection of their parent representatives.

(The Lindenhurst Union Free School District's Plan for School Based Planning and Shared Decision Making, adopted January 21, 1994, pg. 12.) Respondent's substituted language was not submitted to the districtwide committee for its consideration or endorsement.

Petitioners allege that the modifications were made in the absence of any consultation with or participation by the committee in violation of the Commissioner's regulation. In addition, petitioners claim that respondent violated the Commissioner's regulation by adopting its plan without collaborating with the committee or attempting to win its endorsement. Petitioners also allege that by limiting the selection of the parent representative on the site-based team to parents only, respondent disenfranchised all PTA members who were not parents of children attending the school. Petitioners maintain that such limitation violates both the bylaws of the PTA and the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.

The record indicates that although respondent first reviewed the plan prepared by the districtwide committee on January 5, 1994, it declined to approve the plan at that time. Instead, respondent sent it back to the committee on January 13, 1994 to address its concerns regarding the method of selecting parents to the site-based committees. According to the minutes of the January 13th meeting, the focus of the meeting was to discuss respondent's concerns regarding parent selection to the site-based teams. The minutes also reflect that each committee member was given an opportunity to offer suggestions to satisfy respondent's request that the plan include a provision to allow parents not affiliated with the PTA to hold a position on the site-based team. Nonetheless, the minutes indicate that the committee resubmitted to respondent its original plan without modification. On January 18, 1994, the board of education adopted a resolution to return the proposed plan to the districtwide committee once again, asking it to reconsider its position regarding the manner of selecting parents so as to extend an opportunity for all peer group members to be eligible for participation in both the process of selection and representation. The minutes of the January 24, 1994 districtwide committee meeting, which had seven board of education members in attendance, indicate that "extensive discussion relevant to the district's plan for shared decision making took place." In addition, the record includes a detailed memorandum from one of the board members to the districtwide committee articulating the board's concerns that all parents, regardless of their membership in the PTA, should be allowed to participate in the selection process and be eligible for election as a parent representative.

Based upon the record before me, I find no merit to petitioners' claim that the plan would disenfranchise PTA members in violation of its bylaws. Notably, the plan does not call for the selection of parent members to the site-based committee by the PTA itself, but simply calls more fully for their selection "via associated stakeholder organizations." As explained by respondent, the role it envisioned for the PTA in the selection process is limited and would not entail a vote by the organization itself. Rather, respondent describes the PTA serving in an oversight role rather than as the voting body. To the extent petitioners claim that respondent's plan also requires the PTA to violate the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, I note that Not-For-Profit Law '611(B) authorizes any member in good standing to vote "at any meeting of members..." Again, I find nothing in the plan or the regulation that requires the selection of parent members to occur at a PTA meeting.

The Commissioner's regulation ('100.11[b]) governing the development of a shared decisionmaking plan provides that the plan be developed and adopted by the board in collaboration with a committee composed of the superintendent of schools, administrators, teachers and parents. Section 100.11(d) of the regulations further requires that the plan

be adopted by the board of education... at a public meeting after consultation with and full participation by the designated representative of the administrators, teachers and parents, and after seeking endorsement of the plan by such designated representatives.

Petitioners correctly argue that the revised language of the plan that was subsequently submitted to the State Education Department was never submitted to the committee. Nonetheless, the record indicates that on at least two occasions, respondent attempted to reach consensus with the committee regarding the process for selecting parent representatives. Under the circumstances, there is no basis to nullify the plan, even though respondent never submitted to the committee its revised language on the parent selection process. In view of the dialogue which occurred between board members and the committee and evidence that the committee considered fully the board's concerns, I am convinced that further attempts to win the committee's endorsement would have been futile. Because the regulation does not require the committee's endorsement of the plan as a precondition for approval and any formal attempt to obtain it would have been futile (8 NYCRR 100.11[d][1]), I will not set aside respondent's plan in this instance. Nonetheless, respondent is reminded that, in the future, it must actively seek the committee's endorsement and take all necessary steps to ensure that all regulatory requirements pertaining to the adoption of a shared decisionmaking plan are followed.

Even though petitioners' claims are dismissed, I am constrained to address another issue raised by the PTA. Although I find no basis to conclude that respondent's plan requires the PTA to violate either law or its own bylaws, the allegations raise serious concerns. To the extent the PTA believes that respondent's plan forces it to violate either the law or its own bylaws, it is likely that this interpretation has created an impasse to full implementation of respondent's plan. Although '100.11 does not require the committee's endorsement, unless the underlying dispute is resolved, it may be difficult to successfully effectuate the purpose of the plan. Because the overall goal of shared decisionmaking can be easily frustrated if this matter has not been resolved satisfactorily, I have asked the regional field team to review the matter.