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MATTER ESTABLISHMENT REPRESENTATION CAMERON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD BY 9 DIRECTORS ELECTED AT LARGE. RESIDENT ELECTORS AND BYRON D. MURRAY (02/07/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: February 7, 1983.

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF REPRESENTATION OF THE CAMERON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD BY 9 DIRECTORS ELECTED AT LARGE. RESIDENT ELECTORS AND BYRON D. MURRAY, APPELLANTS

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County in case of In the Matter of the Establishment of Representation of the Cameron County School Board By 9 Directors Elected At Large, No. 81-239.

COUNSEL

Cartwright, Fernan and Whitney, for appellants.

Edwin W. Tompkins, II, for appellee.

Patrick J. Kronenwetter, for intervenors.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Williams, Jr., Craig, MacPhail and Doyle. Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Doyle

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 604]

This is an appeal from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County denying and dismissing a petition of resident electors which sought to replace the regional election of school directors in the Cameron County School District (District) with an at-large election. For the reasons which follow, we reverse and remand.

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 605]

On November 21, 1966, a regional plan for the election of school directors for the District was established by order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County. This plan separates the County into three regions which are compatible with the boundaries of election districts which are subsumed within the three regions. The three regions are the Emporium Region, the Shippen-Portage Region and the Southern Cameron Region.*fn1 According to the plan, three school directors would be elected from each region. On August 20, 1981, a petition of resident electors was filed with the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County, which sought to abolish the regional representation plan and substitute therefor an at-large election of all nine school directors. The resident electors alleged that the regions have grossly disparate populations, and therefore

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 606]

    the existing plan is contrary to the requirements of the Public School Code of 1949 (Code).*fn2 On September 22, 1981, the court of common pleas issued a memorandum opinion and order denying and dismissing the resident electors' petition. This appeal followed.

The first question raised by this appeal is whether the resident electors can petition for an at-large representation plan for the District. Section 303 of the Code provides for three alternative representation plans for a school district. School directors may be elected at-large, pursuant to Section 303(a) of the Code, or on a regional basis, or on a combined regional/at-large basis, pursuant to Section 303(b)(1) of the Code. Section 303(b)(3), in pertinent part, also provides: "Any proposed change in an approved plan, including abolition of regional representation, shall be submitted for approval to the court of common pleas by the board of school directors, or by a petition of the resident electors within the district." 24 P.S. § 3-303(b)(3) (emphasis added). Clearly, the resident electors may petition to abolish regional representation in favor of an at-large election of school directors. It is uncontested that Appellant's petition, which contained the signatures and addresses of 235 resident electors, had sufficient valid signatures to satisfy the requirements set forth in Section 303(b)(2) of the Code.*fn3

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 607]

We must now turn our attention to the existing regional representation plan of the District. As established by the 1980 Decennial Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, the resident population of the respective regions and their corresponding population percentages are as follows:

School District Region Population Percentage

     a) Emporium 2837 42.5%

     b) Shippen-Portage 3067 46.0%

     c) Southern Cameron 770 11.5%

Total 6674 100%

Each region elects three members to the District's school board. To further illustrate the imbalance among the regions, Appellants point out that in the Emporium Region there is one director for every 946 residents; in the Shippen-Portage Region there is one director for every 1,022 residents; and in the Southern Cameron Region there is one director for every 256 residents. Appellants contend that this regional representation plan does not satisfy the requirements of Section 303(b)(3) of the Code. We agree. Section 303(b)(3) of the Code establishes two requirements regarding the boundaries of regions: "[t]he boundaries of the regions shall be fixed and established in such manner that the population of each region shall be as nearly equal as possible and shall be compatible with the boundaries of election districts." 24 P.S. § 3-303(b)(3). Both of these requirements must be satisfied. Spring-Ford Area School District Division Case, 210 Pa. Superior Ct. 338, 234 A.2d 184 (1967).

This Court is convinced that the population standard has not been fulfilled by the District's present regional representation plan. Our Superior Court has held that a disparity of two to one between the largest and smallest regions in a nine region district is acceptable.

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 608]

Appellants indicate that the combined method would be an acceptable alternative. We remand this matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County so that the District or resident electors may propose an acceptable representation plan to replace the existing plan.

Order

Now, February 7, 1983, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County in the above referenced matter is hereby reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the preceding opinion.

Disposition

Reversed and remanded.


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