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Board of Education of the Rancocas Valley Regional High School District, Burlington County v. New Jersey State Board of Education

December 11, 2003


On appeal from a Final Decision of the State Board of Education, 25-02.

Before Judges King, Lintner*fn1 and Lisa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa, J.A.D.


Telephonically Argued November 14, 2003

The Board of Education of the Rancocas Valley Regional High School District (District) appeals from a final decision of the State Board of Education which resulted in the reapportionment, after the 2000 Federal Census, of the seats on the District's school board, as allocated among the five constituent municipalities making up the District. The reapportionment was made by the Burlington County Superintendent of Schools, utilizing the"equal proportions" method. When challenged administratively by the District, the superintendent's decision was upheld by the Commissioner of Education. Upon further administrative appeal, the Commissioner's decision was upheld by the State Board of Education. On appeal before us, the District argues that the county and state education officials erred by using the equal proportions method. Alternatively, the District argues that the final agency action should be reversed because the calculations were incorrect or the matter should be remanded for discovery and further administrative proceedings to resolve disputed issues of material fact. We reject these arguments and affirm.

Prior to the reapportionment now before us, the seats on the District's board of education, assigned after the 1990 Federal Census, were allocated as follows: Eastampton-1, Hainesport-1, Lumberton-2, Mount Holly-3, Westampton-2. As a result of the 2000 Census, the allocation was changed by reducing Mount Holly's representation to two seats and increasing Eastampton's to two seats. The 2000 Federal Census revealed the following populations for the constituent municipalities: Eastampton (6,202), Hainesport (4,126), Lumberton (10,461), Mount Holly (10,728), and Westampton (7,217). These figures reflect a 1.7% decline in Mount Holly's population and a 30.1% growth in Eastampton's population since the 1990 Census.

After the County Superintendent notified the District of the reapportionment, the District filed a Petition of Appeal with the Commissioner of Education, challenging the reapportionment determination on the grounds that the incorrect apportionment formula was used. The District contended that the Superintendent was not authorized to use the equal proportions method, but was mandated by N.J.S.A. 18A:13-8 to utilize the"strict population" method, which the District contends would have resulted in no change in apportionment. The Superintendent and Commissioner contended utilization of the equal proportions method was legally authorized and there were no material facts in dispute. Accordingly, they moved for dismissal of the District's Petition of Appeal. The District filed opposition. On April 12, 2002, the Commissioner issued a decision granting the motion to dismiss the Petition of Appeal. On August 7, 2002, the State Board of Education issued its order affirming the decision of the Commissioner for the reasons expressed in his April 12, 2002 decision. This appeal followed.

Eastampton Township, its Township Manager, and a resident of Eastampton Township moved to intervene in the appeal. We granted their motion. The intervenors support the final agency decision. The intervenors have also raised an issue of standing, contending the District should not be permitted to contest the reapportionment decision, in effect spending the taxpayers' money of all five municipalities to fight what, in essence, is Mount Holly's battle. The District board voted to authorize the challenge to the reapportionment decision. The reapportionment decision affects the make-up of the District's board, which, as a body, has authorized the challenge. We are satisfied the District has a sufficient stake in the outcome of the reapportionment decision to confer standing to challenge that decision. We decline to preclude consideration of the merits based upon an assertion of lack of standing.

Initially, we note that no genuine issues of material fact are in dispute, and the matter was properly disposed of by summary disposition. The only material facts upon which the reapportionment decision was based are the undisputed census figures. A party challenging summary disposition must demonstrate some support for its position. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 529 (1995); R. 4:46-2(c). The remaining reapportionment issues, choice of the mathematical formula to be utilized and calculations in accordance with that formula, are not factual. The former is a legal issue, and the latter involves only a ministerial verification of the correctness of mathematical calculations. We are satisfied there was no need for discovery or any type of administrative factfinding hearing.

The dispute centers on which mathematical formula should be utilized to determine the apportionment of seats among the five constituent municipalities on this nine member regional board of education. The Legislature has ordained:

If there are nine or less constituent districts, the members of the board of education of the regional district shall be apportioned by the county superintendent... among said districts as nearly as may be according to the number of their inhabitants except that each constituent district shall have at least one member.

[N.J.S.A. 18A:13-8 (emphasis added).]

The District argues that this statutory language mandates use of the strict population method. Under this method, a simple calculation is made, by which the population of each individual municipality is divided by the total district population, resulting in a percentage for each municipality, totaling 100%. Those individual percentages are then applied to the number of seats available (nine), determining the number of seats for each municipality. Of course, significant rounding off is necessary to accomplish this result. We illustrate the application of this method, and the significance of the rounding off feature, by comparing the two largest municipalities, Lumberton and Mount Holly. The total district population is 38,734. Lumberton's percentage (10,461 ) 38,734) is 27.00728%. Mount Holly's percentage (10,728 ) 38,734) is 27.69659%. Applying Lumberton's percentage to the nine available seats, it is entitled to 2.4306552 seats. Applying Mount Holly's percentage, it is entitled to 2.4926931 seats. Rounded off, Lumberton gets two seats and Mount Holly three under this method.

We find no support in logic or in the law for the District's position that the statutory directive requiring apportionment"as nearly as may be according to the number of their inhabitants" constitutes a mandate for use of the strict population method. They are not equivalent terms. The statutory provision expresses a goal, not a method. Of course, representation on a nine-member board cannot be expected to precisely mirror the respective populations of the constituent municipalities. The goal is to allocate the members as nearly as possible to the respective populations in those municipalities. The specific method used to achieve that goal is left to the discretion of the responsible education officials. As long as the ...

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