On appeals from orders of the State Commissioner of Education and Division of Local Government of Department of the Treasury; and on certification of proceedings in lieu of prerogative writ in the Superior Court, Law Division.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by William J. Brennan, Jr., J.
The Borough of Kenilworth seeks a determination nullifying the high school expansion program of the respondent Board of Education of the Union County Regional High School, District No. 1. The program proposes a $1,950,000 bond issue to finance the acquisition of sites for new high schools in Berkeley Heights and Clark Township and the immediate construction of a high school on the Clark Township site.
This regional district is comprised of the municipalities of Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, Springfield, Clark and Berkeley Heights. It is roughly triangular in shape, with Springfield (abutted at its southeast corner by Kenilworth) at the northerly apex, and Berkeley Heights and Clark Township, respectively, at the extreme southwest and southeast base angles. The district at present has but one high school, which is located in Springfield.
In 1953 the regional board made a comprehensive survey of the future needs of the district for new high school facilities in light of growth and population trends, and upon the basis of that study concluded that a second high school will be needed prior to September 1956, and a third by 1959-1960.
This required the framing of a proposal by the regional board, R.S. 18:7-86, to be submitted to the voters at a referendum election, R.S. 18:7-85, and, because there were existing debt limitations, it was necessary that prior to the referendum election the proposal be consented to by the State Commissioner of Education and the Board of Local Government, R.S. 18:5-86(a) (3).
On October 6, 1953 the regional board framed a proposal: (a) to acquire as sites for school houses, and to expend for said purpose not exceeding $125,000, a plot of 42 acres in Berkeley Heights and a plot of 25 acres in Clark Township, (b) to construct a new high school on the Clark Township site at a cost not exceeding $1,825,000, and (c) to issue bonds for both purposes in the aggregate amount of $1,950,000.
Application for consents of the State Commissioner of Education and the Local Government Board were duly made on October 20, 1953. A hearing by the State Commissioner of Education was held, upon notice, on October 21, 1953, and on October 29 the Commissioner endorsed his consent to the proposal. A hearing was also held by the Local Government Board, after which that body on November 16, 1953 adopted a resolution endorsing its consent to the proposal. The proposal was approved by a vote of 3,360 to 570 at a referendum election held on November 30. The submission at the referendum election was for the approval or rejection of the proposal in its entirety. The vote in Kenilworth was 297 opposed to 53 in favor, the only adverse vote among the six communities.
Following the referendum election the Borough of Kenilworth on December 14 and December 29, 1953 filed notices of appeal from the actions respectively of the State Commissioner of Education and the Local Government Board. On January 18, 1954 the borough filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writ against the regional board to have the election set aside and the bond issue declared invalid. The two appeals and the proceeding in lieu of prerogative writ were consolidated and have been certified here of our own motion.
Appellant's first point is that, because the proposal as it relates to Berkeley Heights provides for the acquisition of a school site only and not also for the building of a high school thereon, it is invalid.
The argument is that a proposal to purchase land unaccompanied by a proposal to build school buildings thereon is not a proposal to finance "new educational facilities" within the meaning of R.S. 18:5-86 under which consent of the State Commissioner of Education may be given only if he is satisfied, among other things, "that the new educational facilities to be financed pursuant to said proposal or ordinance will within ten years be fully utilized." It is said that a site without a school is not an educational facility within the meaning of the statute. The short answer to the argument is that R.S. 18:5-86 is to be read with R.S. 18:7-85 which expressly authorizes the submission to the voters of a proposal including "any or all of the following purposes: a. Purchasing or taking and condemning land for school purposes or improving such land." Thus, "new educational facilities" embraces sites for school purposes. This conclusion is buttressed by reference to other statutes in pari materia, R.S. 18:7-91, prescribing time limits upon the maturity of bonds, ...