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WILLIAM DANSON AND EDITH v. ROBERT E. CASEY (02/14/78)

decided: February 14, 1978.

WILLIAM DANSON AND EDITH, HIS WIFE ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
ROBERT E. CASEY, STATE TREASURER, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND CARYL M. KLINE, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS



Original jurisdiction in case of William Danson and Edith, his wife, et al. and The School District of Philadelphia v. Robert E. Casey, State Treasurer, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Caryl M. Kline, Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

COUNSEL

John R. McConnell, with him George E. Lieberman, Eugene F. Brazil, and, of counsel, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, for petitioners.

Allen C. Warshaw, Deputy Attorney General, with him J. Justin Blewitt, Jr., Chief, Civil Litigation, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for respondents.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by President Judge Bowman. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Rogers. Judge Crumlish, Jr. joins in this dissent.

Author: Bowman

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 616]

This is a class action brought against the State Treasurer and the Secretary of Education by the School District of Philadelphia and a number of parents residing in that district who have children attending

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 617]

Philadelphia schools. Petitioners seek to enjoin these state officials from implementing alleged unconstitutional statutes providing for state subsidies to public schools.

Petitioners have filed an amended petition for review relating to the 1977-78 school year in which they allege that while the School District would be able to operate for the full year by balancing its budget, it would be able to offer only a "truncated and uniquely limited program of educational services" due to lack of adequate funding. This scarcity is alleged to have resulted from the respondent officials' failure, under the challenged statutory system, to provide sufficient state aid to the Philadelphia School District. Petitioners claim this failure denies Philadelphia school children equal protection in violation of Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution,*fn1 and deprives them of a thorough and efficient system of public education as mandated by Article III, Section 14.*fn2

Respondents have filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer seeking dismissal of the petition on the grounds that: (1) petitioners have failed to state a basis upon which relief can be granted; (2) petitioner School District has failed to state a cause of action as to itself; and (3) petitioner School District lacks standing to sue.

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 618]

By virtue of respondents' demurrer we accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the petition for review, Young v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 29 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 268, 370 A.2d 813 (1977), the salient features of which indicate that as of the date of the filing of the petition the District had exhausted its power to raise revenue; estimated expenditures exceed estimated revenues by $158,537,299.00; which deficit required wholesale cutbacks in educational programs.*fn3 Petitioners claim that these reductions compromise the educational opportunity of Philadelphia's school children as compared with the educational opportunity of other school children throughout the state. In so doing, it is nowhere asserted that the complained-of injury is the result of any breach of individual duty or a mistaken application of the law. The sole substantive issue presented

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 619]

    by the lawsuit addresses the constitutionality of the current legislatively prescribed method of financing the public school system.

The common school system as we know it today finds its genesis in the Free School Act of 1834.*fn4 By 1865 the concept of a free public school as a state institution had become firmly established, and was finally solidified as a constitutional standard in Article X, Section 1 of the Constitution of 1874 which directed the legislature to maintain "a thorough and efficient system of public schools." Thus, "[t]he power of the State over education . . . falls into that class of powers which are made fundamental to our government." Teachers' Tenure Act Cases, 329 Pa. 213, 223, 197 A. 344, 352 (1938).

The organization of our public school system is today controlled by the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code).*fn5 Prior to 1963, except for enlarged school districts created by merger or consolidation, each local government unit was denominated as a school district grouped into one of five classes as determined by population. Under reorganization of school districts mandated by 1963 amendments to the School Code larger administrative units were established encompassing in most instances two or more existing school districts. The Philadelphia School District, however, remains as a single unit coextensive with the City and County of Philadelphia. It also comprises a separate intermediate unit (No. 26) incident to the creation of intermediate units throughout the Commonwealth,*fn6 the purpose of which is to coordinate activities of the school districts comprising each

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 620]

    intermediate unit and to supply special programs and educational opportunities to school district members of a particular intermediate unit.

The School Code establishes a minimum schedule of services, which it is the duty of each board of school directors to implement. To finance this system, Section 507, 24 P.S. § 5-507, vests in each school district "all the necessary authority and power annually to levy and collect, in the manner herein provided, the necessary taxes required, in addition to the annual State appropriation. . . ."

The School District of Philadelphia is, however, in a unique position with regard to this general delegation of the taxing power. The power of taxation, in all forms and of whatever nature, is the sole prerogative of the General Assembly, Mastrangelo v. Buckley, 433 Pa. 352, 250 A.2d 447 (1969), and although delegation of this power to municipalities and school districts without any definite restrictions has been upheld, such a delegation is impermissible when made to a nonelective body. Wilson v. Philadelphia School District, 328 Pa. 225, 195 A. 90 (1937).*fn7 By virtue of Section 302 of the School Code, 24 P.S. § 3-302, the school board of each first class district is appointed. Therefore, whatever taxing power the Philadelphia School District has arises out of Section 17

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 621]

    of the First Class City Home Rule Act*fn8 which empowers the elected municipal government to "exercise . . . any and all powers relating to its municipal functions . . . to the full extent that the General Assembly may legislate in reference thereto as to cities of the first class . . . ," and Section 1 of the Act of August 9, 1963, P.L. 640, as amended, 53 P.S. § 16101 which defines ...


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