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In re Board of Education

Decided: December 23, 1980.

IN THE MATTER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF TRENTON, MERCER COUNTY


On appeal from the New Jersey State Board of Education.

Matthews, Morgan and Morton I. Greenberg. The opinion of the court was delivered by Matthews, P.J.A.D.

Matthews

[176 NJSuper Page 556] On February 5, 1979, the Commissioner of Education ordered the Trenton Board of Education and its superintendent to show cause at a hearing to begin March 5, 1979 why the commissioner should not appoint a special agent or take other appropriate action to remedy educational deficiencies in the district school system. Prior to the hearing, a notice of motion to intervene was filed by the Puerto Rican Congress and the Council of Puerto Rican Organizations, requesting leave to intervene in proceedings relating to the board's alleged failure to provide an adequate bilingual education. The motion was granted.

Hearings on the order to show cause were held on March 5, 6, 13, 15 and 21, 1979, before an Assistant Commissioner of Education, Division of Controversies and Disputes. At the close of the State's case, the board moved to dismiss and, alternatively, for summary judgment. The hearing officer's initial decision, rendered October 5, 1979, advised the commissioner to deny both motions; made findings of fact with respect to each alleged educational deficiency, and recommended a plan for corrective action.

The decision of the commissioner, dated November 7, 1979, denied the board's motions to dismiss and for summary judgment; adopted the findings of the hearing examiner, and found that the recommended plan for corrective action was "entirely suitable," with the exception of one item. The State Board of Education issued an administrative order on November 8, 1979, directing implementation of the plan for corrective action. This appeal followed.

During 1977 the State Department of Education received information indicating that certain deficiencies existed in the Trenton public school system. The commissioner accordingly directed that the system be monitored and investigated. As a result of that action, the department was able to document numerous deficiencies in a report issued in January 1978. Consequently, the Trenton board was ordered to prepare a plan to remedy those deficiencies. The Trenton board submitted a remedial plan to the commissioner in March 1978. However, that remedial plan was never fully implemented and, on February 5, 1979, the commissioner ordered the board to show cause why corrective action should not be taken. That order alleged continuing deficiencies in special education, bilingual education, and affirmative action programs; in the safety and adequacy of school facilities; in timely submission of reports and documents required by law, and in efficiency of administrative procedures, sufficiency of the 1978-79 school budget, and employment of

teaching staff members to fulfill the needs of the school district.*fn*

The State presented numerous witnesses and exhibits at the March 1979 hearing. Based upon the evidence, the hearing examiner found: (1) Special education: The board has failed to provide adequate personnel and services for evaluation and classification of handicapped pupils; has failed to develop and implement an educational plan for each such pupil; has failed to provide adequate resource rooms and programs for handicapped pupils; has failed to avail the school district of available funds for special education, and teaching staff members have failed to refer potentially handicapped pupils to child study teams. (2) Affirmative action: In view of the board's past performance in the area of affirmative action, corrective measures are necessary to insure implementation of the affirmative action plan approved in August 1979. (3) School facilities: Numerous health and safety deficiencies exist in six elementary schools. (4) Bilingual education: The board has failed to provide adequate bilingual educational programs for eligible pupils. (5) Submission of reports: The board has consistently failed to submit required reports and documents in a timely manner. (6) Efficient administrative procedures, sufficiency of the 1978-1979 school budget, and employment of teaching staff members: The board has impeded the adoption of plans for compensatory education and affirmative action; has disregarded recommendations of administrative and supervisory staff and officials of the Department of Education, and does not act as a unified body. Furthermore, the board's minutes are kept in a manner which obfuscates the record of transaction of business. The board has also failed to follow proper procedures, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6:8-4.3, for employing teaching staff members; there is evidence of "gross mismanagement" by the board in the employment,

transfer, and promotion of personnel; some members of the board act as patrons for individuals seeking employment, transfer, or promotion; the board's policy of requiring that three candidates be recommended for each available position is inefficient, and finally, the board has continued the illegal practice of requiring that staff recommendations identify the person's race and sex.

In short, the report discloses that the educational system of the City of Trenton is in an abysmal state, due almost entirely to the mismanagement and incompetence of the members of the local board of education.

The board accepts, it claims, for purposes of this appeal, the factual findings of the hearing examiner which were adopted by the commissioner in his decision rendered on November 7, 1979. The ground for this appeal is the plan for corrective action ...


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