On appeal from the Commissioner of Education, Agency Docket No. 93-5/10.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grall, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 31, 2011 -
Before Judges Parrillo,*fn1 Grall and Skillman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by GRALL, J.A.D.
Tracee Edmondson appeals from a final decision of the Commissioner of Education dismissing her challenge to an agreement expanding a sending-receiving relationship between the Pittsgrove Township Board of Education and the Board of Education of the Borough of Elmer (collectively the Boards). The municipalities are in Salem County, and they border one another. The Commissioner concluded that this arrangement does not exceed the authority granted to the Boards in N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8, amount to a de facto regionalization that must be accomplished in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:13-34, or permit the Commissioner's intervention on the ground that Elmer's local school district is a non-operating district, N.J.S.A. 18A:8-43 to -49. We affirm those determinations.
The facts are not disputed. Since 1976, these Boards have had a sending-receiving relationship - one in which students in the sending school district, in this case Elmer, are educated in schools operated by the receiving school district, in this case Pittsgrove. N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8. The sending district pays the receiving district tuition for each student involved. Ibid.
The Boards' arrangement in place between 1976 and 2003 covered Elmer students in grades seven through twelve. In 2003, it was expanded to include students in grades five through twelve. On March 11, 2010, the Elmer Board unanimously approved another expansion, one which provides for all of Elmer's children to be educated in schools operated by Pittsgrove.
To absorb the additional students, the Boards planned for Pittsgrove to lease the school in Elmer formerly operated by the Elmer district for Elmer students attending kindergarten through grade four. Prior to the school budget vote in April 2010, the Pittsgrove Board mailed a flyer describing the expansion and explaining that it would bring the district $600,000 and a fifth school building.
On April 27, 2010, the superintendents of both districts jointly gave notice of the plan to the parents of students living in Pittsgrove and Elmer. The notice explains the rationale for the changes necessitated by the "full send-receive" relationship. Fifth grade classes, previously accommodated in the Pittsgrove junior high school, would be held in a grammar school in Pittsgrove, which was viewed as a better setting for fifth graders. By leasing the school, the Elmer district would no longer operate, Pittsgrove would accommodate all first and second grade classes in that school, and all third through fifth grade classes in another school in Pittsgrove.
In that notice, the superintendents invited questions and comments. On June 15 and 21, 2010, respectively, the Elmer and Pittsgrove Boards approved the full sending-receiving relationship and the lease to Pittsgrove.
Edmondson is a resident of Pittsgrove, and she filed a challenge with the Commissioner before the Pittsgrove Board approved the full sending-receiving agreement and essential lease. Thereafter, the Elmer Board answered, and the Pittsgrove Board moved to dismiss. Edmondson sought an expedited hearing and, on several occasions, various requests for temporary injunctive relief. The Commissioner transferred the contested case to the Office of Administrative Law for disposition, N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 to -15; N.J.S.A. 52:14F-1 to -13. Subsequently, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a conference and gave Edmondson additional time to file a response to the motion to dismiss. The ALJ granted the motion to dismiss on the ground that the expansion of the sending-receiving agreement was authorized by N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8 and denied Edmondson's applications for emergent relief.
Edmondson filed exceptions to the ALJ's decision, and after considering the record in light of those exceptions and the Boards' opposition, the Commissioner upheld the ALJ's determinations. As of the date of the Commissioner's decision, the lease under which Pittsgrove planned to take possession of and operate the school in Elmer was under review by the Office ...