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Decision No. 14,850

Appeal of DANIEL WONG, JACQUELINE SAMORA and GEORGE CLARKE from actions of the Board of Education of the Liverpool Central School District regarding a reorganization plan.


(March 17, 2003) 

Hugh C. Gregg II, Esq., attorney for petitioners 

O"Hara and O"Connell, attorneys for respondent, Dennis G. O"Hara, Esq., of counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal various actions of the Board of Education of the Liverpool Central School District ("respondent") in connection with a reorganization plan.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Respondent approved three resolutions related to a reorganization plan at its November 13, 2001 meeting.  The first authorized demolition of the A.V. Zogg Building ("Zogg") and creation of building lots on the property.  It further stated that "the Board will consider and evaluate any alternative proposal that it may hereafter receive until such time as the plan approved...becomes irreversible."  The second resolution authorized the closing of the Craven Crawford Elementary School ("Crawford") at the end of the 2001-2002 school year and the transfer of administrative offices from Zogg to Crawford beginning in July 2002.  The third resolution authorized a change in attendance zones so that some students currently assigned to Chestnut Hill Middle School would be transferred to Liverpool Middle School or Soule Road Middle School over the course of two years.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners" request for interim relief was denied on January 28, 2002.

Petitioners argue that respondent failed to follow the school-closing procedures established in Education Law "402-a, failed to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA") and negligently created a budget shortfall that should be remedied by measures other than the reorganization plan.  They also contend that respondent relied on inaccurate enrollment figures and assert that the plan will have negative effects on students and property owners.  They ask that I enjoin respondent from taking the contested actions. 

Respondent contends that Education Law "402-a does not apply to the actions it authorized on November 13, 2001.  Respondent also asserts that it complied with SEQRA, developed its budget responsibly and relied on sound enrollment information.  Respondent disputes petitioners" prediction that its plan will have negative effects and asserts that it acted within its broad discretion to assign students to schools and establish attendance areas.

By letter dated November 7, 2002, respondent"s attorney notified my Office of Counsel that on October 21, 2002, respondent amended the November 13, 2001 resolution regarding the Zogg building to remove any authorization for demolition.  Respondent closed Crawford at the end of the 2001-2002 school year but notified my Office of Counsel that it is studying the feasibility of relocating elementary students from its Soule Road complex to Crawford beginning in 2003, which would require retaining administrative offices at Zogg, for at least one year. Finally, respondent has completed the first phase of downsizing Chestnut Hill and expects to further reduce the number of students attending Chestnut Hill for the 2003-2004 school year.

The appeal must be dismissed, in part, as moot.  It is well settled that the Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Combier, 42 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 14,831; Appeal of S.T., 41 id. __, Decision No. 14,709; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 41 id. ___, Decision No. 14,680).  Respondent has adopted a resolution removing its prior authorization for the demolition of Zogg.  While respondent is currently seeking a buyer for Zogg, it is also considering a plan that would lead to maintaining administrative offices at Zogg for at least one more school year.  Thus, the appeal is moot to the extent that it challenges the proposed demolition of Zogg and relocation of administrative offices and alleges that respondent had violated SEQRA and other statutes in planning those actions.

Decisions about school district reorganization and the closing of school buildings are within the discretion of a board of education and will not be set aside unless they are shown to lack a rational basis (Appeal of Patashnick, 39 Ed Dept Rep 236, Decision No. 14,225; Appeal of Malone, et al., 39 id. 135, Decision No. 14,194; Appeal of Lancaster Parent Alliance, 38 id. 356, Decision No. 14,053).  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.  In such cases, a board"s discretion is broad (Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Education, 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of Malone, et al., 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 (Appeal of Patashnick, supra; Appeal of Malone, et al., supra).

In this appeal, petitioners have not demonstrated that respondent"s decision to use Crawford for administrative offices and to reduce the number of students attending Chestnut Hill lacks a rational basis.  The record indicates that respondent considered detailed information on the projected decline in enrollment and that it has considerable excess capacity.  The record also indicates that respondent received less State aid than anticipated in the 2001-2002 fiscal year.  While, in retrospect, some reduction in State aid might have been expected, petitioners have not shown that respondent negligently created a budget shortfall. 

Petitioners" claim that respondent failed to follow governing statutes is unavailing.  Education Law "402-a, entitled, "Procedures for closing a school building," "authorize[s] and recommend[s]" that a school board establish an "advisory committee on school building utilization to investigate the educational impact" of a proposed school closing at least six months in advance of such action, and requires the committee to prepare a written educational impact statement. However, that provision is applicable only where a district contemplates discontinuing use of a school building for any purpose (Appeal of Patashnick, supra; Appeal of Malone, et al., supra).  It does not apply here because respondent"s reorganization plan contemplates using the Crawford building for the district"s administrative offices. Moreover, even where a district contemplates permanently closing a building, establishment of an advisory committee pursuant to Education Law "402-a is discretionary (Appeal of Patashnick, supra).  Accordingly, I find that respondent was not obligated to follow the procedures outlined in Education Law "402-a when it planned to change the use of Crawford from an elementary school to an administrative building.

I have considered the parties" remaining contentions and find them without merit.