A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Appellate Division Affirms Denial of School District’s Application for Emergency Aid

By on June 14, 2022 in Other with 0 Comments

By: Erika Vasant, Law Clerk

Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

On April 18, 2022 the New Jersey Appellate Division decided the case of In the Matter of the Request for 2019-2020 Emergency Aid Submitted by the Board of Education of the North Warren Regional School District, where the court addressed the New Jersey Department of Education’s (“DOE”) decision to deny a school board’s application for emergency aid for roof repairs. The Appellate Division affirmed the Commissioner of Education’s decision that the DOE did not act unreasonably in denying the request.

The North Warren Regional School District (“District”) operated only one school building for middle and high schoolers. The District applied for emergency aid in the amount of $502,795 in an effort to cover a portion of the cost of roof repair for the school. Its reasons for needing the requested amount stemmed from financial distress. The DOE ultimately denied the application, and the District appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division.

On appeal, the District argued that the DOE’s decision should be reversed because it was unreasonable for the DOE to require all remaining financial reserves of the District to be dedicated to an emergency aid fund. It further argued that the DOE’s decision did not even address the roof repair. Last, the District contended other school districts which were similarly situated received emergency funds, thereby rendering the DOE’s decision arbitrary and capricious.

The Appellate Division, however, first reviewed legislative background and referred to the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which created a new, ”phased – in” formula to determine the adequacy to which districts were funded but also set aside emergency funds for qualifying districts. In addition, the DOE issued a memorandum that urged school districts to exhaust all available options before filing an application for emergency aid. The memorandum also notified the districts that awards of emergency aid were subject to “rigorous review.” The Appellate Division found that given available data on the record, the District’s budget did not account for funds from the maintenance reserve, transportation costs, and other categories which would have cumulatively covered the costs of the roof repair. Likewise, the Appellate Division concluded that the District’s request was not even remotely related to roof repairs because the total requested corresponded to the District’s reduction in state aid for the past two fiscal years. Finally, the Appellate Division held that the DOE in fact, utilized the same standard for evaluating all districts which was solely based on whether financial distress was experienced.

In general, the Appellate Division also emphasized the wide range of flexibility that agencies are permitted when choosing rulemaking procedures. Specifically, the Appellate Division emphasized the legislature’s approval of “regulatory guidance documents” which included any memoranda set forth by agencies. The memorandum by the DOE was clear with the matters considered in its “rigorous review” for assessment of emergency funds. In essence, the Appellate Division sided with the DOE because there was no actual need for emergency funds by the District with their surplus of funds from other categories. Accordingly, the DOE did not act unreasonably in denying the emergency fund request by the District.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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