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In re Petition for Formation of Independent School District

December 19, 2008

IN RE: PETITION FOR FORMATION OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
APPEAL OF: RIEGELSVILLE TAX & EDUCATION COALITION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Friedman

Argued: November 13, 2008

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Judge, (P) HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge.

OPINION

The Riegelsville Tax & Education Coalition (Coalition)*fn1 appeals from the February 27, 2008, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County (trial court), which denied the Coalition's Petition for Formation of Independent School District (Petition) because the Secretary of Education (Secretary) determined that the Petition lacked merit from an educational standpoint. We vacate and remand.

The Coalition filed its Petition pursuant to section 242.1(a) of the Public School Code of 1949 (Code)*fn2 seeking to transfer all school-related services from the Easton Area School District to the Palisades School District. In its Petition, the Coalition alleged that the proposed transfer would be in the best interests of the present and future school-aged children residing in the applicable territory of Riegelsville Borough (Borough).*fn3

The trial court referred the matter to the Secretary, who requested that the affected school districts provide information that would enable the Secretary to make an informed decision. On January 24, 2008, the Secretary determined that the proposed transfer lacked merit from an educational standpoint. In a letter to the trial court, the Secretary stated:

The Department [of Education] reviewed the information submitted by the petitioners and school districts in response to the Department's questionnaire. All materials submitted in this matter have been thoroughly reviewed in reaching my decision. Upon review of these materials, I find the following:

1. The information submitted establishes that petitioners seek to transfer a portion of Riegelsville Borough from the Easton Area School District to the Palisades School District.

2. The information submitted does not establish that the school districts provide unacceptable academic programs and/or learning environments.

3. There is no educational benefit to the proposed transfer.

For these reasons, I find that the proposed transfer lacks merit from an educational standpoint.

(R.R. at 266a.) As a result of the Secretary's determination, and pursuant to section 242.1(a) of the Code, the trial court denied the Petition.*fn4

The Coalition filed a notice of appeal. In its concise statement of matters complained of on appeal, the Coalition argued that the trial court erred in denying the Petition based on the Secretary's determination because the Secretary violated section 507 of the Administrative Agency Law (Law)*fn5 and the Coalition's due process rights by failing to issue an adjudication containing findings and the reasons for the adjudication.

In considering these issues, the trial court concluded that the Secretary did not violate section 507 of the Law because the Secretary's determination was not adjudicatory in nature. The trial court also concluded that the Secretary did not violate the Coalition's due process rights because the Coalition was not deprived of a property right. In reaching these conclusions, the trial court noted that the Secretary has discretion to approve or disapprove a petition; that the trial court may not inquire into the merits of a petition filed pursuant to section 242.1 of the ...


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