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Decision No. 14,796

Appeal of JAMES BROARDT, et al., from action of the Board of Education of the Williamsville Central School District regarding redistricting.

Decision No. 14,796

(August 23, 2002)

Bouvier, O"Connor LLP, attorneys for petitioners, Arthur H. Ackerhalt and Bruce A. Goldstein, Esqs., of counsel

Norton/Radin/Hoover/Freedman, attorneys for respondent, Bernard B. Freedman, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commission.--Petitioners appeal the determination of the Board of Education of the Williamsville Central School District ("respondent") to require children who live in a neighborhood known as "sector 19" to attend respondent"s Maple West Elementary School rather than Maple East Elementary School. The appeal must be dismissed.

In June 2001, respondent adopted a plan for review of its attendance zones. A Citizens Advisory Committee was formed and presented recommendations to the respondent"s superintendent. The superintendent in turn presented recommendations to respondent. The superintendent"s plan allocated students from each sector of the district to an elementary school and addressed attendance at the middle and high schools.

Respondent discussed the superintendent"s recommendations at its meetings on January 8, 15, 27 and 30, 2002. On February 5, 2002, respondent met to take action. At that meeting, a board member moved to amend the superintendent"s plan by assigning children from sector 9B to Maple East, sector 17 to Maple East, sector 19 to Maple West and sector 9A to Dodge Elementary School. After discussion, the members agreed that the inclusion of sector 9A was in error. Respondent then voted on and defeated the remaining proposed amendment. Members Popowich, Holtzman, Henning, and Viksjo voted for the amendment; members Rohrer, Qazi, Harris-Ewing, Freeman and Shubert voted no. Following that vote, respondent discussed and voted on several other amendments.

Respondent continued to discuss the number of children assigned to each elementary school under the superintendent"s plan. It then voted to amend the superintendent"s plan by assigning children from sector 9B to Maple East. Board member Popowich then moved to amend the superintendent"s recommendation to assign children from sector 17 to Maple East and sector 19 to Maple West. The board members acknowledged that they could not reconsider the same amendment they had rejected earlier. The president and parliamentarian determined that the new proposal contained only two of the three elements originally discussed and therefore was not the same proposal. Respondent then tabled the vote on the proposed amendment until after discussion of the attendance plans for its middle and high schools. After discussing those matters, respondent recalled and voted on the tabled amendment. The amendment was approved by a 5-4 vote. Following consideration of other motions, respondent voted 7-2 to adopt the superintendent"s recommendation as amended. This appeal ensued. Petitioners" request for interim relief was denied on March 12, 2002.

Petitioners allege that respondent violated its own policies and procedures when it amended the superintendent"s plan to assign students from sector 19 to Maple West. Petitioners contend that respondent"s policies require it to conduct meetings in accordance with Robert"s Rules of Order and that those rules prohibit respondent from renewed consideration of an issue already decided at a session. Petitioners further argue that respondent did not follow proper procedures for reconsideration of a motion. They seek an order invalidating the amendment to the superintendent"s plan and directing respondent to address the issue in accordance with its policy.

Respondent argues that it accepted the judgment of its president and parliamentarian that it could consider the motion at issue and asserts that it could suspend application of the rules of order at any time. Respondent further argues that it adopted the amended plan by a 7-2 vote after a lengthy process that included community input and extensive discussion. Finally, respondent contends that the plan is rational, takes the needs of all students into account and is neither arbitrary nor capricious.

Petitioners seek to maintain this appeal on behalf of a class including all parents and children who reside in sector 19 now or in the future. An appeal may only be maintained on behalf of a class "where the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable and where all questions of fact and law are common to all members of the class" (8 NYCRR "275.2; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 39 Ed Dept Rep 1, Decision No. 14,154; Appeal of Aloisio, 38 id. 169, Decision No. 14,009). A petitioner must set forth the number of individuals he or she seeks to represent and must show that all questions of law and fact would be common to all members of the class (Appeal of Bluemke, etal., 39 Ed Dept Rep 447, Decision No. 14,281).

In the instant appeal, petitioners have not set forth the number of prospective members of the class or attempted to demonstrate that all the potential class members have the same interests or claims. In any event, a determination as to these petitioners will resolve the issue for all potential petitioners. Thus, there is no need for class certification. Accordingly, class certification is denied.

The appeal must be dismissed on the merits. Pursuant to Education Law "1709(3) and (33), 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 (Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Education, 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of Franchese, 39 Ed Dept Rep 285, Decision No. 14,239; Appeal of Lancaster Parent Alliance, 38 id. 356, Decision No. 14,053). In such cases, a board"s discretion is broad (Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383, aff"d 16 NY2d 619, cert. den. 382 US 905; Appeal of Bluemke, supra). 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 Franchese, supra). Moreover, petitioners bear the burden of demonstrating that respondent"s action is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Lancaster Parent Alliance, supra).

I find that petitioners have failed to meet their burden of proof. They present no evidence that the redistricting plan itself is arbitrary, capricious or educationally unsound. Instead they focus on the procedure respondent followed when it voted to add two provisions to the proposed plan. Respondent"s president asked the parliamentarian for a determination whether it was proper for the board to consider the proposed amendment; the parliamentarian authorized the vote. The amendment was considered in the context of a lengthy discussion of the number of children who would attend the district"s elementary schools and an attempt to balance those numbers. After the amendment was approved, respondent voted on the plan as a whole and approved it by a 7-2 vote. Based on these facts, I am unable to find that adoption of the plan was arbitrary, capricious or educationally unsound.

To the extent that petitioners also complain that respondent failed to give adequate public notice of its intent to move sector 19 students, their argument is unavailing. There is no requirement in law that a board conduct a hearing upon any particular matter or grant to any person the right to be heard (Appeal of Aloisio, supra). Moreover, I note that The Citizens Advisory Committee originally recommended the transfer of sector 19 students. In any event, any complaints about public notice or comment are not grounds to invalidate a redistricting decision (Id.).