For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, J.
[48 NJ Page 97] The Appellate Division, in an opinion reported at 91 N.J. Super. 20 (1966), affirmed the Law Division's determination that the Commissioner of Education had jurisdiction under R.S. 18:3-14 to decide the controversy between East Brunswick's Board of Education and Township Council and that this jurisdiction should be exhausted before judicial review is sought in the courts. See R.R. 4:88-14. We granted certification on application by the Township Council. 47 N.J. 423 (1966).
East Brunswick's Board of Education operates under Chapter 7 of Title 18 (see Botkin v. Mayor and Borough Council of Borough of Westwood, 52 N.J. Super. 416, 425-427 (App. Div.), appeal dismissed 28 N.J. 218 (1958)) and its annual budget is submitted to the voters for approval or rejection. R.S. 18:7-78 et seq. If the voters reject the budget, it is resubmitted in the same or altered form within 15 days at a special election (R.S. 18:7-81) and, if again rejected, it comes before the Township Council in accordance with R.S. 18:7-82. After consultation with the Board of Education, the Council must within 10 days of its receipt of the budget, certify to the county board of taxation an amount which the Council considers necessary "to provide a thorough and efficient system of schools in the district." See Const. 1947, Art. VIII, sec. IV, par. 1. Nothing in the letter or spirit of R.S. 18:7-82 precludes the Council from certifying the same amount as proposed in the Board of Education's budget; on the contrary, the Council would be obligated to certify that very amount whenever it considers it necessary to satisfy the statutory standard. If the Council fails to make certification within the time prescribed by R.S. 18:7-82, the Commissioner of Education is directed to make an original certification to the tax board in its stead. R.S. 18:7-83.
On February 8, 1966 and again on February 23, 1966 the voters of East Brunswick rejected the Board of Education's proposed budget. After consultation with the Board of Education, the Township Council resolved that the budget should be reduced by $195,000 and that certification should be made to the tax board in a sum which would result in a budget of $4,959,096 rather than $5,154,096 as proposed by the Board of Education. Considering itself aggrieved by the Council's action, the Board of Education filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writ in the Law Division. The complaint alleged that the Council's budget reduction would deprive the local school system of necessary teaching staffs and physical facilities, and that the Council had acted "arbitrarily, unreasonably and capriciously, without consideration
of the needs of the school system, upon improper standards and in satisfaction of political commitments made prior to the submission of the said budget to the voters." The relief sought in the complaint was a restraint against certification by the Council to the tax board, a declaration that the Council had not certified an amount sufficient to provide a thorough and efficient school system, and an order that the cause be referred for determination by the Commissioner of Education as required by law.
After hearing argument, the Law Division on March 18, 1966 entered an order (1) directing that the Board of Education file a petition pursuant to R.S. 18:3-14 with the Commissioner of Education, (2) restraining the Township Council from making certification to the tax board, and (3) dismissing the complaint except that jurisdiction was retained for the single purpose of administering the restraint. The Council appealed to the Appellate Division and then moved for vacation of the restraint on condition that, in the event there is a final judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction or an order of the Commissioner of Education unappealed from, requiring the Township to provide additional funds for the Board of Education up to $195,000, the Township Council "will make an emergency appropriation as provided for in R.S. 40A:4-46 and borrow the funds by emergency notes as provided for in R.S. 40A:4-51." By an order dated March 31, 1966, the Law Division dissolved the restraint and thereafter the Council certified the reduced budget to the tax board.
On April 11, 1966, the Appellate Division rendered an opinion affirming the judgment entered in the Law Division. It held that the dispute between the Board of Education and the Township Council with respect to the sufficiency of the budget was cognizable by the Commissioner of Education under the comprehensive terms of R.S. 18:3-14; that statute provides that "The commissioner shall decide without cost to the parties all controversies and disputes arising under the school laws, or under the rules and regulations of the state
board or of the commissioner." 91 N.J. Super., at p. 24; see Laba v. Newark Board of Education, 23 N.J. 364, 381-82 (1957). It found no sufficient reason for bypassing the available administrative review, pointing out that "the expertise of the commissioner" was directly involved. 91 N.J. Super., at p. 25; see R.R. 4:88-14; Roadway Express, Inc. v. Kingsley, 37 N.J. 136, 141 (1962); 3 Davis, Administrative Law § 20.09 (1958).
Differentiating recent opinions in this Court where stress was laid on the general breadth of the administrative reviewing responsibilities under R.S. 18:3-14, the Appellate Division expressed the thought that the Commissioner's scope of review of a budget controversy, such as the one presented here, should be narrowly confined "to an inquiry into any arbitrariness in the action of the council." 91 N.J. Super., at pp. 24-26. The Township Council urges before us that its action under R.S. 18:7-82 is not reviewable at all by the Commissioner and that it is to be deemed final except on a positive showing in court that a complete breakdown in the local educational system is threatened. On the other hand, the Board of Education urges that the Council's action is reviewable by the Commissioner under the clear terms of R.S. 18:3-14 and that the Commissioner is charged, in the course of his review, with the responsibility of seeing to it that the amount being certified by the Council to the tax board is sufficient to enable fulfillment of the constitutional and statutory mandate for a thorough and efficient school system. Cf. Booker v. Board of Education, Plainfield, 45 N.J. 161, 175, 177 (1965); In re Masiello, 25 N.J. 590, 606 (1958); Laba v. Newark Board of Education, supra, 23 N.J., at pp. 381-82.
In 1846 the Legislature provided for a State superintendent of public schools who was charged with the duty of obtaining faithful execution of the school laws. L. 1846, p. 168; see also L. 1845, p. 242. By 1851 the superintendent had been empowered to decide any disputes or ...