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Decision No. 14,220

Appeal of NANCY PARKER, LINDA MORETTE, PATRICIA DIVITO and CHRISTINE HATEN from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Lackawanna regarding shared decision-making.

Decision No. 14,220

(October 12, 1999)

Carl W. Morgan, Esq., attorney for respondent

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal from the decision of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Lackawanna ("respondent") to reorganize the schools of its district and restructure the grade level configuration at each school building. Petitioners claim the decision was not made in compliance with the school district's shared decision-making plan. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners are the parents of students residing in respondent's district. On June 6, 1997 respondent considered a proposal to reconfigure the grade levels housed in each of the district's school buildings. The proposal was designed in part to comply with a court order dated May 5, 1997 by Special Arbitrator Dr. Henry S. Dowski, in Matter of Benjamin P., a class action pending in the United States District Court for the Western District, directing respondent to bring certain of its schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Pursuant to "100.11 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education and the district's shared decision-making plan adopted thereunder, respondent distributed copies of the proposed school reorganization to administrators, teachers and shared decision-making teams throughout the district. The district's shared decision-making plan requires teams to provide "input" on issues related to facilities. The plan defines "input" as suggestions, opinions, recommendations, ideas and information related to an issue. In response to its request for input, respondent received numerous responses from teachers, administrators, parents and the district's building planning teams. Respondent submits 26 such responses as part of its answer. On June 30, 1997, after receipt of the responses to its request for input, respondent adopted the school reorganization plan proposed on June 6. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners allege that respondent's adoption of a reorganization plan for the district's schools violated the provisions of 8 NYCRR "100.11 relating to shared decision-making because, they contend, respondent did not follow its shared decision-making plan when reviewing the school reorganization issue. Respondent asserts that its decision was made in compliance with 8 NYCRR "100.11 and its shared decision-making plan and, therefore, should not be disturbed.

The appeal must be dismissed. Education Law "1709(33) authorizes a board of education to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Education, 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of Woodward, 36 Ed Dept Rep 445, Decision No. 13,773; Appeal of Shaw, et al., 34 id. 521, Decision No. 13,400). A board of education has broad discretion in its assignment of pupils to schools (Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383, aff'd 16 NY2d 619, cert den 382 US 905; Appeal of Woodward, supra). Accordingly, a board's decision to reorganize its schools will only be overturned when found to be arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, supra; Appeal of Parrish, 32 Ed Dept Rep 261, Decision No. 12,825). Moreover, petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that respondent's action is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Woodward, supra; Appeal of Sherwood, et al., 33 Ed Dept Rep 410, Decision No. 13,096). Upon review of the record before me, I find petitioner has established no basis on which to overturn respondent's reorganization plan.

The sole argument in support of petitioner's challenge to the reorganization plan is that respondent failed to use its shared decision-making procedure adopted pursuant to 8 NYCRR "100.11 in developing the plan. Petitioner sets forth no other grounds for his challenge. The record before me indicates that respondent adopted a plan for site based planning and shared decision-making in accordance with the requirements of 8 NYCRR "100.11. Section 100.11 provides that a board of education must consult certain individuals when developing a plan for school-based planning and shared decision-making. Nothing in that section mandates that a board of education obtain approval of a school-based planning team before implementing a decision (Appeal of Zaleski and Gimmi, 36 Ed Dept Rep 284, Decision No. 13,725; Appeal of Gillespie and Karafonda, 34 id. 240, Decision No. 13,295). Respondent's plan provides for obtaining input from its shared decision-making teams on issues related to facilities. The record indicates that respondent obtained such input from the teams, as well as from a number of individual teachers, parents and administrators, prior to making its decision. Petitioners argue in their reply that the reorganization plan is a matter relating to "scheduling" rather than "facilities", thus requiring a higher level of participation by the site-based teams. I cannot agree with petitioners' characterization. I find the reorganization plan constitutes a matter relating to facility utilization.As noted above, Education Law "1709 and decisional law confers specific authority on respondent board of education to determine the assignment of pupils to its schools. Thus, pursuant to respondent's shared decision-making plan, the determination to reassign pupils to schools as part of a district reorganization plan required only that respondent obtain input from the site-based teams, and such determination could properly be made solely by respondent.

Based upon this record, I find that respondent acted within its legal authority in developing and adopting a school reorganization plan. Moreover, respondent obtained significant input from relevant constituencies prior to making its decision. Therefore, I find no basis for disturbing respondent's decision.