On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Education, Commissioner of Education, Nos. 439-11/06 and 246-8/07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Fuentes and Gilroy.
This appeal concerns the homelessness status of the D. family's children and the New Jersey Department of Education's (Department) apportionment of the children's educational expenses among three local boards of education: the Board of Education of the Borough of Magnolia, Camden County (Magnolia); the Board of Education of Deptford Township, Gloucester County (Deptford); and the Board of Education of Moorestown Township, Burlington County (Moorestown). Appellant Deptford appeals from that part of the May 5, 2009 final decision of the Commissioner of Education, determining that effective January 5, 2005, Deptford became the district of residence for the D. children "and, as such, was and continues to be responsible for providing them with a free public education from that point until such time as the family establishes a fixed residence in another school district."*fn1 We affirm.
In 2003, A.D. and his wife, T.D., resided with their children in a single-family home in the Borough of Magnolia. While there, five of their children attended schools operated by Magnolia. On an unspecified date in the winter of 2003, the family became homeless. For the next several months, the Camden County Board of Social Services placed the family in a succession of motels.
In February 2004, the D. Family, with the assistance of Social Services, rented a home from Mr. D's uncle in Moorestown Township, Burlington County, and their children enrolled in Moorestown's schools. In the fall of 2004, because of the need to return to his own home, Mr. D.'s uncle filed eviction proceedings against the D. Family. The uncle evicted the D. family in December of that year, relegating the family again to living in motels with the assistance of social service agencies.
On January 5, 2005, a real property developer, having read of the D. family's plight in a local newspaper, permitted the family to occupy one of his vacant homes in Deptford Township, Gloucester County, advising the family they could stay there as long as needed. On moving into the home, the D. children enrolled in Deptford's schools.
On January 11, 2005, contending that the D. family was homeless,*fn2 Deptford made a demand upon Moorestown as the school district of origin*fn3 to be reimbursed for the cost of the children's educations. Moorestown complied and reimbursed Deptford, not only for the balance of the 2005 school year tuition costs, but also for the educational costs for the 2005-2006 school year.
On May 1, 2006, Moorestown, contending that Magnolia was the school district of origin, demanded that Deptford seek reimbursement for the children's educational costs from Magnolia. Because a conflict existed among the three boards of education concerning which board was responsible for the costs of the children's educations, Deptford requested that the Burlington, Camden and Gloucester County Offices of Education intervene in the dispute.
On August 31, 2006, H. Mark Stanwood, the Gloucester County Superintendent of Schools, issued a collaborative determination on behalf of the three County Superintendents regarding the homeless status and district of origin for the children. In that letter, the three Superintendents determined that the children's district of origin was Magnolia, and that the family remained homeless as it had not established a permanent residence. Accordingly, the three Superintendents "determined that Magnolia continues to be the district responsible for the provision of educational services to these children under the revisions of N.J.A.C. 6:24-1.1 [et seq.]."
On November 22, 2006, Magnolia filed an appeal petition with the Commissioner of Education (Agency Dkt. No. 439-11/06) challenging the three Superintendents' determination regarding the children's district of origin and present district of residence, contending that Magnolia was "not the district of origin for the D. Family" and that the "D. Family is domiciled and resides... in Deptford."
On November 29, 2006, the Department's Bureau of Controversies and Disputes advised Magnolia that several deficiencies existed in its appeal petition. Specifically, the Bureau explained that disputes "as to a homeless child's district of origin must first be filed with and heard by the Department's Division of Finance," pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:23-5.2, before an appeal can be brought before the Commissioner. Additionally, the Bureau explained that regarding the appeal challenging the residential status of the D. Family -- that the family was not then homeless but was domiciled in Deptford Township -- Magnolia needed to name the children's parents rather than the three County Superintendents as respondents in the appeal. Accordingly, the Bureau directed Magnolia to file an amended petition of appeal if it intended to proceed.
On December 14, 2006, Magnolia filed an appeal with the Division of Finance, Office of School Funding, from the August 31, 2006 decision of the three Superintendents' determining that Magnolia was the district of origin for the D. children. On the same day, Magnolia filed an amended petition of appeal with the Bureau of Controversies and Disputes, seeking a ...