SAVE CAMDEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, UNITY COMMUNITY CENTER OF SOUTH JERSEY, INC., JENIFFER ALVIRA, MONEKE RAGSDALE, JEANNETTE MELENDEZ, and RONSHA DICKERSON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
CAMDEN CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, CAMDEN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, PAYMON ROUHANIFARD, Superintendent, Camden City School District, Defendants-Respondents, and CAMDEN COUNTY NAACP EDUCATION COMMITTEE, Plaintiff, and DAVID HESPE, New Jersey Commissioner of Education, Defendant.
March 20, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Camden County, Docket No. L-1552-16.
L. Komuves argued the cause for appellants (Zazzali, Fagella,
Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman, PC, attorneys; Flavio L.
Komuves, of counsel and on the briefs).
William M. Tambussi argued the cause for respondents (Brown &
Connery, LLP, attorneys; William M. Tambussi and Tara L.
Humma, on the brief).
K. Chen argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil
Liberties Union of New Jersey (Edward Barocas, Jeanne
LoCicero, and Alexander Shalom, of counsel and on the brief).
Judges Hoffman, Gilson, and Mayer.
appeal involves the interpretation of two statutes concerning
the right of Camden citizens to vote on the classification of
their school district. That vote will determine whether
members of the Camden City Board of Education (Board) are
elected or appointed by the mayor. Plaintiffs contend that a
vote on that issue was required in April 2014, under a 2010
amendment to the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic
Recovery Act (MRERA), N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-63.1(c). Defendants
counter that because the school district was placed into full
State intervention in 2013, the classification vote is not
required until the district satisfies certain
"performance indicators" under the Quality Single
Accountability Continuum Act (QSAC), N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-49(e).
MRERA and QSAC contain provisions that set forth different
frameworks for school district classification votes.
Accordingly, we must determine which statutory framework
that the 2010 amendment to MRERA governs because its language
is clear in granting Camden citizens the right to a school
district classification vote, and nothing in QSAC restricts
that right. Significantly, granting Camden citizens the right
to a school district classification vote does not interfere
with the State's full intervention because the Board will
continue to serve in an advisory role until the conditions of
QSAC are satisfied. Accordingly, we reverse the trial
court's August 15, 2016 order dismissing plaintiffs'
complaint. We remand with the direction that the trial court
conduct a hearing within thirty days to determine when the
school district classification vote will be held.
material facts are not in dispute. In 2002, the Legislature
enacted MRERA, N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-1 to -79. That statute
allowed the State to appoint an "overseer" or
"chief operating officer" (COO) to control the
governance of municipalities experiencing long-term fiscal
distress. N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-7(a). Under MRERA, the State can
effectively take control of a municipality with the goal of
restoring fiscal stability and, thereafter, returning
governance to local control. N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-2(o).
also authorized "limited school district oversight"
if the district is contiguous with the municipality and was
already subject to certain levels of State monitoring.
N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-2.1(d), -4(d), -63; see also Camden
City Bd. of Educ. v. McGreevey, 369 N.J.Super. 592,
597-600 (App.Div. 2004) (describing some of the legislative
history of MRERA).
October 2002, shortly after MRERA became effective, the State
appointed a COO to oversee Camden's fiscal and budgetary
affairs. Before the State implemented its oversight of Camden
under MRERA, the school district had been classified as a
Type II district, which meant that members of the Board were
elected. N.J.S.A. 18A:9-3; N.J.S.A. 18A:12-11. Once Camden
was placed under the oversight of the State-appointed COO,
however, the Board's powers were limited. Under MRERA,
all actions of the Board were subject to gubernatorial veto.
N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-64(b). In addition, the governor had the
right to appoint three new Board members and, thereafter, as
existing Board members' terms expired, either the
governor or mayor made replacement appointments. N.J.S.A.
2010, the Legislature amended MRERA to restore certain local
control to municipalities being overseen by the State.
N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-63.1. At that time, Camden was the only
municipality operating under MRERA. Accordingly,
then-Governor Corzine referred to the amendment as the
"Camden Freedom Act."
2010 amendment to MRERA added new provisions for affected
school districts. One of the new statutory provisions
directed that a school district contiguous with a
municipality under MRERA would become a Type I district
"upon the commencement of the economic recovery term . .
. ." N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-63.1(a); see also N.J.S.A.
52:27BBB-3 ("Economic recovery term means the period
commencing with the expiration of the term of the [COO] and
terminating [ten] years thereafter.").
provision stated that "[a]t the April school election in
the fourth school year following the commencement of the
economic recovery term[, ]" there would be a vote on
"the classification status of the district as a Type I
or Type II district . . . ." N.J.S.A. 52:27BBB-63.1(c).
Thus, once the economic recovery term commenced, the school
district would be converted to a Type I district, with school
board members appointed by the mayor. Four years later, the
voters would have the opportunity to decide if the school
district should remain a Type I district or transition to a
Type II district, where voters would elect school board
January 18, 2010, which was the same day that the amendment
to MRERA passed, the term of the State-appointed COO expired
and Camden commenced economic recovery. Accordingly, the vote
on the classification of the Camden school district was to be
held in April 2014.
from the State's oversight of Camden under MRERA, the
State Commissioner of Education (Commissioner) filed an order
to show cause in March 2013, seeking to implement full State
intervention over the Camden school district under QSAC.
Shortly thereafter, the Board entered into a consent decree
placing the Camden school district into full State
intervention, effective June 25, 2013. Under QSAC's
provisions for full intervention, the State Board of
Education was authorized to appoint its own superintendent
and other "highly skilled professionals" to provide
"technical assistance to the district in implementing
its improvement plan" and "direct oversight . . .
regarding the quality performance indicators" set forth
in QSAC. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(c)(2), -15(c).
the Camden school district was placed into full State
intervention under QSAC, its existing Board remained in
place, and the Commissioner had the right to appoint three
additional members to the Board. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-47(a). The
Board, however, became an advisory board, with limited
authority. Ibid. Thereafter, the State-appointed
superintendent effectively controlled the Camden school
district, with the Board serving in an advisory role. See
N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-47(a) to (b), -15(b), -35(a). In addition to
advising the State-appointed superintendent, the Board had
the right to receive certain information and to participate
in the review process that would ultimately lead to the
restoration of local control. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-47(b).
which was enacted in 2005 and last substantively amended in
2007, established a comprehensive statutory scheme to
evaluate a school district's performance. The statute
provides that when a district under full State intervention
meets certain "performance indicators, " and is
placed into partial intervention or returned to local
control, a vote on ...