On appeal from a Final Administrative Order of the State Board of Education.
Approved for Publication October 8, 1997.
Before Judges Petrella, Skillman and Wertheimer. The decision of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella
The decision of the court was delivered by
The Board of Education of the Passaic County Manchester Regional High School District (Regional Board) concluded that a proposal to change the method of apportioning costs was defeated in the April 18, 1995 election because two of the three constituent municipalities comprising the regional school district failed to adopt it. The Borough of North Haledon's petition to challenge the interpretation of the applicable statutes by the Regional Board was rejected by the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner), and the State Board of Education (State Board). North Haledon appeals from the final decision of the State Board that affirmed the determination of the Commissioner. The State Board held that, in order to change the method of apportioning costs among the constituent municipalities of a regional school district, a majority vote of those voting in each constituent municipality was required. We agree and affirm.
North Haledon argues that the language "total vote of the entire regional district" in N.J.S.A. 18A:13-5 applies and that a majority vote of the entire district is determinative (the overall majority rule). It argues that N.J.S.A. 18A:13-23 is not applicable as to what constitutes approval of the ballot question. North Haledon asserts that certain amendatory legislation should be construed in accordance with its precise language and the presumption against implied amendment. It relies on a liberal construction of election laws to effectuate an overriding public policy in favor of enfranchisement of voters.
Manchester Regional High School is in a limited purpose regional school district (see N.J.S.A. 18A:13-34(b)), and has as constituent municipalities the Boroughs of North Haledon, Haledon, and Prospect Park. An election was held in those municipalities on April 18, 1995 on the following question:
The Board of Education of the Manchester Regional High School District is hereby authorized, subject to the approval of the legal voters of the District, to modify the manner in which amounts to be raised for annual or special appropriations for the District, including the amounts to be raised for interest upon, and the redemption of, bonds payable by the district, are apportioned among the district's constituent municipalities so that, at the end of a five year phase-in period, the district will apportion its appropriations among its constituent municipalities based upon the number of pupils enrolled in the District from each municipality. The progression of change from the equalized valuation to the per pupil enrollment basis during each fiscal year of the five year phase-in period shall be as follows:
a. 1995-1996: Eighty percent (80%) equalized valuation and twenty percent (20%) pupil enrollment
b. 1996-1997: Sixty percent (60%) equalized valuation and forty percent (40%) pupil enrollment
c. 1997-1998: Forty percent (40%) equalized valuation and sixty percent (60%) pupil enrollment
d. 1998-1999: Twenty percent (20%) equalized valuation and eighty percent (80%) pupil enrollment
e. 1999-2000: One Hundred percent (100%) pupil enrollment
Approval of this proposal would allow the Manchester Regional High School District Board of Education to change the method it uses to apportion the financial contributions of its constituent municipalities from proportions based solely on the equalized valuation of each municipality to proportions based solely on pupil enrollment. The change would take place on a graduated basis over a five year period so that beginning in the fifth year (1999-2000 school year) and for all subsequent years, each municipality's share of financial contribution to the regional school district will be on the basis of its pupil enrollment in the district.
After the election, each municipality was recorded as having had the following votes: