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ENGLISH v. BOARD OF EDUC. OF TOWN OF BOONTON

August 21, 2001

PATRICK ENGLISH, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OF BOONTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hochberg, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court to determine an interim remedy following this Court's finding that the New Jersey statute governing the relative voting power of two school districts in a sendingreceiving relationship, N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8, was unconstitutional as applied to the districts of Lincoln Park and Boonton. English v. the Board of Education of the Town of Boonton, 135 F. Supp.2d 588 (N.J. 2001) ("English I"). Post-judgment, the parties were required to meet and propose a joint resolution to the constitutional infirmity found by the Court. Those meetings produced no fruitful solution to be implemented until the state legislature enacts a new statute, and this Court will therefore devise the appropriate interim remedy. Upon enactment of new state legislation, either side may petition to vacate this interim remedy.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

As described in greater detail in this Court's March 26, 2001 Opinion, the town of Lincoln Park maintains its own elementary school system, but entered into a sending-receiving relationship with the town of Boonton over 50 years ago for education of its high school students at Boonton High School. N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8 provides that Lincoln Park, the sending district, shall have one seat on Boonton's Board of Education, irrespective of the relative populations of the two towns. Census data for the year 2000 reveals that the population of Lincoln Park is 10,930 while Boonton's population is 8,496. Thus, the citizens of the town of Lincoln Park represent approximately 56% of the combined population of the two districts and 52% of the high school student population. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8, the citizens of Lincoln Park are represented by one Board member while the citizens of Boonton have nine out of the ten Board members elected to represent their interests. This Court held that "the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that votes on the Board of Education of Boonton, for all matters affecting the citizens of Lincoln Park, must be apportioned in a manner which complies with the principles of `one person, one vote'". English I, 135 F. Supp.2d at 596. Consequently, the Court declared N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8 unconstitutional as applied to the districts of Lincoln Park and Boonton.*fn1

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Proposed Remedy

Plaintiff proposes two possible remedies: first, plaintiff suggests that three or four members of the Lincoln Park Board of Education ("Lincoln Park Board" or "Lincoln Park") be selected to sit on the Boonton Board of Education ("Boonton Board" or "Boonton"). The Lincoln Park members' votes would be weighted to give them 56% of the total board vote, a number equivalent to Lincoln Park's percentage of the combined population of both towns, but the Lincoln Park Board members would only vote on issues which affect the high school. Alternatively, plaintiff suggests creating a separate board of education for high school matters, consisting of nine members; Lincoln Park would elect five members and Boonton would elect four members.*fn2

B. State's Proposed Remedy

The New Jersey State Commissioner of Education ("the Commissioner") proposes that the Court model its remedy after N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.4. Section 8.4 governs the sending-receiving relationship in "sixth-class" counties and bases the number of representatives allotted to a sending school district on a sliding scale. Based on this scale, a sending district whose students comprise at least 40% of the total enrollment of pupils in a school is permitted three representative's on the receiving district's board. Section 8.4 further provides that the sending district representatives be added to the existing receiving board and be permitted to vote on only those matters authorized by N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.1. Thus, pursuant to the Commissioner's proposal, Lincoln Park would be given three seats on the Boonton Board comprised of twelve total members, representing 25% of the total board vote on issues within the purview of section 8.1.

However, the Commissioner's proposal does not comport with the principles of "one person, one vote" as it affects Boonton High School. The Commissioner was unable to proffer any rational basis underlying the state statute's disparate treatment of "sixth class" counties compared with all other counties in sending-receiving relationships, nor any reason why the application of this statutory provision to the facts of this case satisfies the Supreme Court's rulings. This proposal has already been rejected in an analogous case, upon a finding that the statute was special legislation "enacted with the prior approval of both districts [where] the issues of voter representation were not considered". Board of Educ. of Branchburg v. Livingston, No. 98-5557, slip op. at 9 (N.J. May 22, 2001). This Court agrees with Judge Thompson's assessment of N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.4 in this context.

C. Boonton Board of Education's Proposed Remedy

The Boonton Board suggests severing the sending-receiving relationship between itself and Lincoln Park. Boonton argues that severance is the best remedy because it will avert future disputes between the parties and avoid a scenario where the Lincoln Park representatives control facilities that are not owned by the citizens of Lincoln Park.

First, the Court notes that the issue of severance was addressed on the motions for summary judgment when all parties, including Boonton, did not contest that severance of the sending-receiving relationship would be deleterious for the students of both towns. This issue was thus decided by this Court in the Opinion and Order dated March 26, 2001. In support of its motion for summary judgment, plaintiff submitted an affidavit of undisputed material facts that neither Boonton nor the Commissioner contested on this point.*fn3 Plaintiff averred that the withdrawal of a majority of the students from Boonton High School would "substantially disrupt educational programs" and "devastate the finances of the high school." English I, 135 F. Supp.2d at 592. The Court found that Defendants did not dispute these facts. Id. All parties are therefore estopped from arguing ...


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