The plaintiffs, municipal corporations, and the Borough of Bellmawr, constitute the regional school district known as Black Horse Pike Regional School District. The authority of the school district is limited to the construction and operation of a high school, which was opened in September 1957 and is still being constructed and equipped.
Two elections were held in the municipalities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18:8-16 and N.J.S.A. 18:8-16.1, and the total vote of all constituent school districts rejected all the items of the budget in the first election, and rejected the items of repairs and replacements for $6,500 and capital outlay (site improvements and equipment) for $44,500 in the second election. Thereafter, the boards of education submitted the rejected items to the governing bodies of the three municipalities as required by N.J.S.A. 18:8-16.2. These boards approved the repairs and replacement item, but only Bellmawr approved the capital outlay item and the other municipalities rejected it. The capital outlay item was submitted to the defendant Commissioner of Education pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18:8-16.3:
"Should the governing bodies of such municipalities fail to certify to the county board or county boards of taxation within such time prescribed in the previous section an amount which in their judgment is necessary for any of the items which the voters had rejected at the second election, or should the governing bodies fail to agree and certify different amounts, then in either such case the commissioner of education shall determine and certify to the county board or county boards of taxation the amount or amounts which in his judgment shall be necessary to provide a thorough and efficient system in the regional district. The amount or amounts so certified shall be included in the tax levied for such municipalities for such appropriations."
The Commissioner of Education held a hearing and thereafter submitted the following opinion:
Black Horse Pike Regional High School District
Gentlemen: Attention: Mr. Elmer Hill, Secretary
We have reviewed the budget for capital outlay purposes submitted by the Board of Education of the Black Horse Pike Regional High School District for 1958-59 pursuant to R.S. 18:8-16.3. I am enclosing a copy of a certificate forwarded to the Camden County Board of Taxation certifying the amount which, in my judgment, will be necessary to provide a thorough and efficient program of education in your high school for the school year 1958-59. The amount certified represents a reduction of $4,000 from the amount submitted by the Regional Board of Education to the voters at both the first and second elections.
It is our opinion that your school is in need of the equipment you have specified and more if you hope to develop an educational program of high caliber. On the other hand, we must take into consideration the fact that one of your constituent school districts failed to approve the capital outlay proposal by a small margin at the polls. I would interpret this action as indicating a desire on the part of a few to postpone the cost rather than to eliminate it. For this reason, I would suggest the Board of Education consider making the following changes in its spending plans for the 1958-59 year:
1. Reduce the amount set aside for orchestra and band instruments by $500.
2. Limit the expenditure for grounds improvements, seeding, landscaping and fencing to $7,000.
In closing, I would like to compliment the Board and its staff members for their untiring efforts to develop a sound educational program under very difficult circumstances.
Commissioner of Education"
and forwarded his certification to the county board of taxation:
Camden County Board of ...