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Decision No. 14,215

Appeal of ANNE K. CHERNISH and PEARL A. DeRIDDER from action of the Board of Education of the Newfield Central School District regarding an annual meeting.

Decision No. 14,215

(September 30, 1999)

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

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners, residents and taxpayers of the Newfield Central School District, challenge certain procedures related to the conduct of the district's annual meeting on May 18, 1999. The appeal must be dismissed.

On April 15, 1999, the Board of Education of the Newfield Central School District ("respondent") approved the tentative budget for the 1999-2000 school year. Respondent states that printed copies of the proposed budget were available in each school building in the district more than 14 days prior to the district's annual meeting on May 18. Petitioners state that a "budget meeting" was held on May 5, but claim that copies of the proposed budget were not subsequently mailed to all district households as allegedly promised at the meeting. On May 11, respondent mailed a budget newsletter to district residents. A copy of the newsletter is included in the record, with a bulk mailing receipt indicating that 2,657 items were mailed.

The district's annual meeting was conducted on May 18. Petitioners concede that copies of the proposed budget were available at the polling place.

Petitioners present a number of complaints. Among other things, they complain that the proposed budget was not mailed to every district household following the May 5 budget hearing, but it is unclear whether copies of the proposed budget were available at that meeting. While conceding that copies of the budget were available at the annual meeting, petitioners assert that this left district voters with inadequate time to actually analyze the budget. Petitioners further claim that electioneering occurred at the polls, because respondent's superintendent and other district employees were present to answer questions about the proposed budget and propositions.

Petitioners ask me to order respondent to adopt a "clear and fair policy regarding development of a draft budget and election procedures at Newfield Central School District." They further want respondent to adopt a policy on electioneering. Petitioners want any proposed budget to be "delivered" in printed form at least six weeks prior to any vote. Finally, they request copies of the district's budgets for the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 school years, together with an accounting of all funds spent under a previous construction project and pursuant to the construction proposition passed at the district's annual meeting on May 18, 1999.

Respondent generally denies all allegations of wrongdoing, explains the manner in which the election was conducted, and denies that any electioneering occurred. Respondent further points out that petitioners' requests for documents with respect to prior budgets are available pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, but are not within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Education.

The appeal must be dismissed. Petitioners have failed to prove respondent's violation of any provision of the Education Law with respect to the preparation for, and conduct of, the district's annual meeting of May 18, 1999. It appears that respondent has complied with the requirements of Education Law "1716, which sets forth the standards promulgated by the Legislature for the production and availability of a school district's proposed budget. While petitioners want respondent to make its proposed budget available six weeks prior to the district's annual meeting, the Legislature has only directed the board of education of a central school district to make copies of the budget available to district residents, upon their request, during the fourteen days immediately preceding the annual meeting (see Education Law "1716(2). The record demonstrates that respondent has complied with this requirement. Conversely, there is no statutory requirement that a board of education mail copies of a proposed district budget to anyone.

With respect to petitioners' claims of electioneering, it appears that these claims are based entirely upon "information and belief." Petitioners present no direct evidence of electioneering; however, the affidavit of respondent's superintendent specifically denies that she or any other school employee encouraged or asked any voter to vote in favor of the budget. Electioneering is prohibited by Education Law "2031-a, and there is no requirement that respondent have a policy with respect to it.


With respect to the information petitioners seek regarding prior district spending and capital construction, such information requests fall within the parameters of the Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law "89) and the Commissioner is without jurisdiction to decide such claims (Appeal of Breud, et al., 38 Ed Dept Rep 748, Decision No. 14,133; Appeal of Kushner, 36 id. 261, Decision No. 13,719).

Petitioners have not challenged the election itself, in which the budget passed 549-148, the bus purchase/capital reserve proposition passed 444-160, and the building construction proposition passed 414-159.

I have considered the parties' other claims and arguments and find them without merit.