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Decision No. 18,339

Application of LAIRD E. PETRIE for the removal of Dr. Ravo Root as Superintendent of the Camden Central School District.

Decision No. 18,339

(August 23, 2023)

Girvin & Ferlazzo, PC, attorneys for respondent, Kristine A. Lanchantin, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner seeks the removal of Dr. Ravo Root (“respondent”) as Superintendent of the Camden Central School District pursuant to Education Law § 306.  The application must be denied.

In spring 2022, petitioner became concerned over the district’s proposed 2022-23 school year budget, which included a projected 4.5% increase in the property tax levy.  On May 2, 2022, the district published a “Budget Newsletter” in the local newspaper that did not provide specific information or data concerning the proposed tax increase.  Petitioner thereafter requested a meeting with respondent to discuss his concerns.

On May 2, 2022, petitioner met with respondent to discuss the proposed tax increase.  Respondent asserted that this increase was needed to provide the district with sufficient savings in the event of a reduction in state aid funding.  Petitioner disagreed and indicated that he planned to share his findings with the local newspaper. 

On May 3, 2022, petitioner delivered a letter to the editor of the local newspaper that questioned the need for the 4.5% tax increase and was accompanied by an analysis of the district’s finances.  Petitioner requested that it be published prior to the public hearing scheduled for May 10, 2022.  The editor agreed to this condition.  Petitioner also provided a copy of the letter to the district’s school board.

On May 4, 2022, respondent visited the editor of the newspaper.  Respondent indicates that he requested the opportunity to submit an opposing editorial to run “side by side” with petitioner’s letter.  The editor of the newspaper, by contrast, avers that respondent requested he delay publication of the letter for a week.  The editor further alleged that respondent threatened him by stating that the district “ha[d] been very good” to the newspaper and that, if the editor did not cooperate, the district “may look for another publication to do business with.”  Respondent denies these allegations. 

On May 5, 2022, petitioner wrote to the school board, informing them of respondent’s alleged attempt to delay publication of his letter. Petitioner requested that the board hold respondent responsible for his actions. 

On the same date, respondent sent a message to the public via social media regarding the district’s 2022-23 school budget vote that included the following statement: “The Camden Central School District has been made aware that some individuals are going to encourage people to vote no on our school budget over the next few weeks.”  This application ensued.

Petitioner argues that respondent engaged in impermissible partisan activity by attempting to suppress his letter and issuing the May 5, 2023 social media message.  Petitioner seeks respondent’s removal from office pursuant to Education Law § 306.

Respondent contends that petitioner’s removal application must be dismissed for lack of the notice required by 8 NYCRR 277.1 (b). On the merits, respondent denies that he threatened the editor and asserts that he merely intended to ensure that the district received an opportunity to respond to the allegations in petitioner’s letter.

The application must be denied for lack of the required notice. Section 277.1 (b) of the Commissioner’s regulations dictates the specific notice required for removal applications pursuant to Education Law § 306, which is distinct from the notice required under section 275.11 (a) for appeals pursuant to Education Law § 310.  The notice of petition secures jurisdiction over the intended respondent and alerts the respondent that he or she must appear in the removal proceeding and answer the allegations contained in the application (Application of Johnson, et al., 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,055; Appeal of Hertel, 49 id. 267, Decision No. 16,021; Application of Barton, 48 id. 189, Decision No. 15,832).  Thus, a removal application that does not include the specific notice required by 8 NYCRR 277.1 (b) is fatally defective and must be denied (Application of Johnson, et al., 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,055; Appeal of White and Carmand, 56 id., Decision No. 16,994; Appeal of Kelly, 45 id. 38, Decision No. 15,253). Petitioner’s application lacks the required notice and, thus, must be denied (Application of Cole, et al., 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,201; Application of Dilorenzo, 62 id., Decision No. 18,183; Appeal and Application of Najm, 59 id., Decision No. 17,853).

Additionally, respondent requests a certificate of good faith pursuant to Education Law § 3811 (1).  Such certification is solely for the purpose of authorizing a board of education to indemnify a respondent for costs incurred in defending against a proceeding arising out of the exercise of the respondent’s powers or the performance of the respondent’s duties as a board member or other official listed in section 3811 (1).  The Commissioner will issue such certification unless the record establishes that the requesting respondent acted in bad faith (Application of McCray, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,240, Application of Valentin, 56 id., Decision No. 17,014; Application of Paladino, 53 id., Decision No. 16,594).  Since the appeal has been dismissed on procedural grounds without any findings on the merits, I hereby certify solely for the purpose of Education Law § 3811 (1) that respondent is entitled to the requested certification (Appeal and Application of Petrocelli, 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,223).

Nothing in this decision should be interpreted as condoning respondent’s actions, which, even if motivated by an earnest desire to achieve passage of the budget, did not reflect the “neutrality and impartiality” required of school officers in connection with school budgets (Stern v. Kramarsky, 84 Misc 2d 447, 452 [Sup Ct, New York County 1975]; see also Matter of Phillips v. Maurer, 67 NY2d 672, 673 [1986]).

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.