Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County in the case of In Re: Petition of the Board of Directors of the Hazleton Area School District to change (re-apportion) an approved plan which established Nine Regions for election of directors within the District, No. 2314-C 1986.
Clifford A. Rieders, with him, Simonne N. Roy, Rieders, Travis, Mussina, Humphrey & Harris, for appellant.
James S. Palermo, with him, James A. Kelly and David L. Glassberg, for appellees.
Judges Craig and Doyle, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 566]
This is an appeal by the Valley Education Association (Association) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County that adopted a reapportionment plan submitted to the trial court by the Board of Directors of the Hazleton Area School District (District) pursuant to the provisions set forth in Section 303 of the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. § 3-303 (School Code).
Fortunately, a detailed description of the geographical boundaries of the plan is unnecessary. Suffice it to say that because of major population shifts within the confines of the school district boundaries, the 1967 nine-region plan was no longer satisfactory and was probably unconstitutional. Accordingly, the District, after public notice and hearings at which citizens were invited to comment, devised a plan whereby the District would again be composed of nine regions, but one region admittedly contained a section that did not physically abut the rest of the region.*fn1 On the bases that this region (Region 7) is not "contiguous" and that the population deviations within the individual regions are unconstitutional in that they are in violation of the "one-man one-vote" principle enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), the Association has objected to the plan.*fn2
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 567]
We begin by recognizing, as did the trial court, that where a school district undertakes reapportionment, three criteria must be met. Pursuant to Section 303 of the School Code, "[t]he boundaries of the regions shall be fixed and established in such manner that the population of each region shall be as nearly as equal as possible and shall be compatible with the boundaries of election districts." In addition, there is a third requirement, which appears in Section 502 of the Pennsylvania Election Code, Act of June 3, 1937, P.L. 1333, as amended, 25 P.S. § 2702 (Election Code). Section 502 mandates that "[w]hen a school district crosses county lines, the regions of the school district shall be composed of contiguous election districts." (Emphasis added.) It is undisputed that the District crosses county lines and includes territory from Luzerne, Carbon, and Schuylkill Counties.
The trial court concluded that the term "contiguous" as used in Section 502 means "in close proximity; or near, though not in contact." Accordingly, it determined
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 568]
that Section 502 of the Election Code had not been violated. We respectfully disagree.
Although we acknowledge that the term "contiguous" as employed in Section 502 has never been interpreted, we note that that precise term has been interpreted where it appeared in a statute pertaining to annexation of borough and township land. There, as here, the statute ...