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In re Petition to Realign Regional Election Districts in Pennsbury School District

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 8, 2013

In Re: Petition to Realign Regional Election Districts in Pennsbury School District Appeal of: Concerned Residents of Pennsbury ("CROP")

Argued: October 8, 2013.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

This is an appeal by an unincorporated association, Concerned Residents of Pennsbury (CROP), from an order of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) approving a school district reapportionment petition filed by the Pennsbury School District Board of School Directors (School Board) pursuant to Section 303 of the Public School Code of 1949 (Public School Code).[1]For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

The Pennsbury School District (School District) is a school district of the second class with a total population of 71, 165 according to the 2010 Census. (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 1; Hearing Transcript (H.T.) at 156, R.R. at 219a; Petition to Realign Election Districts ¶2; Petition for Establishment of a New Representation Plan ¶4, R.R. at 7a.) See also Section 202 of the Public School Code, 24 P.S. § 2-202. There are four municipalities with a total of 35 election districts[2] in School District: Lower Makefield Township (15 election districts), Yardley Borough (1 election district), Falls Township (18 election districts), and Tullytown Borough (1 election district). (Hearing Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 14, R.R. at 39a; H.T. at 139, R.R. at 202a.)

Section 303 of the Public School Code provides that school boards for school districts of the second class shall be composed of nine directors. 24 P.S. § 3-303(a). The nine directors may be elected at-large, by three regions, by nine regions or by a combination of at-large and three-region voting. 24 P.S. § 3-303(b)(1)-(3). Any changes to the regions or type of plan by which school board directors are elected must be submitted to a court of common pleas for approval. 24 P.S. § 3-303(b)(3). Proposed changes may be submitted by the school board or by petition signed by electors equal to at least 25% of the highest candidate vote in the last school board election. 24 P.S. § 3-303(b)(2), (3).

The School Board has been elected under a three-region plan since the 1960s. (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 1 n.1; H.T. at 46, 98-99, R.R. at 108a, 161a-162a.) See also Resident Electors of Pennsbury School Board v. Pennsbury School Board, 572 A.2d 1303, 1304 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1990). The current three-region plan, which has been in place since approximately 1990, consists of a northern region made up of 11 Lower Makefield Township election districts and Yardley Borough (Region 1), a southern region made up of 10 Falls Township election districts and Tullytown Borough (Region 2), and a middle region composed of four Lower Makefield Township election districts and eight Falls Township election districts (Region 3). (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 1; H.T. at 63, R.R. at 125a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 14, 21, R.R. at 39a, 46a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 3.) Six of the nine current School Board directors are from Lower Makefield Township and three are from Falls Township. (H.T. at 111, 159-60, R.R. at 174a, 222a-223a.)

The 2010 Census showed a significant imbalance between the regions: Region 1 had 40.80% of the total population, Region 2 had 27.26%, and Region 3 had 31.94%. (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 1; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 21, R.R. at 46a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 3; H.T.at 29, 72-73, R.R. at 91a, 134a-135a.) In April 2012, the School Board formed a committee composed of one School Board member from each region to address reapportionment, and that committee directed the School District Superintendent, Business Administrator and Director of Administrative Services to obtain the 2010 Census data and develop recommendations. (H.T. at 29-38, R.R. at 91a-100a.) This group developed two three-region reapportionment proposals, Administration Option No. 1 and Administration Option No. 2 (Administration 2). (H.T. at 75-77, R.R. at 137a-139a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 22-33, R.R. at 47a-58a.)

Administration 2 has the following population distribution:

Region 1: 23, 928 (33.6% of the total population)
Region 2: 23, 273 (32.7% of the total population)
Region 3: 23, 964 (33.7% of the total population)

(Exhibit SB-1 Tab 2, R.R. at 25a.) The maximum deviation (449) that any of these three regions has from the ideal population of 23, 722 is only 1.89%, and the difference of 691 between the most and least populous regions, Regions 3 and 2, compared to ideal population, is only 2.91%. (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 2, Exhibit SB-1 Tab 10, R.R. at 61a.) Administration 2, like the existing three-region plan, divides the School District into a northern region that includes all the northernmost election districts (Region 1), a southern region that includes all the election districts in the southern part of the School District (Region 2), and a middle region between them (Region 3). (Exhibit SB-1 Tab 2, R.R. at 25a.) Administration 2 largely preserves the existing regions; the only change that it made was to transfer two election districts from Region 1 to the adjoining Region 3 and one election district from Region 3 to the adjoining Region 2. (H.T. at 49, R.R. at 111a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 2, R.R. at 25a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 13, 14, 21, 33, R.R. at 38a, 39a, 46, 58a.) No incumbent School District directors would be placed in a different region under Administration 2. (H.T. at 86, R.R. at 148a.) The population deviations between regions in Administration 2 are smaller than in the other proposal considered by the School Board, Administration Option No. 1. (Exhibit SB-1 Tab 4 at 27, R.R. at 52a.)

At a public meeting on May 30, 2012, at which residents of the School District were given the opportunity to comment, the School Board committee selected Administration 2 to recommend to the full School Board. (H.T. at 49, 82-83, R.R. at 111a, 144a-145a.) On June 14, 2012, the School Board voted 8-0 to adopt Administration 2 and seek court approval of Administration 2. (H.T. at 48-49, 82-84, R.R. at 110a-111a, 144a-146a; Exhibit SB-1 Tab 6.)

After the School Board announced that it was considering reapportionment, CROP developed a competing nine-region plan for the School District, Citizen 1, and in June 2012, obtained sufficient signatures supporting that nine-region plan to submit it for court approval. (November 21, 2012 Trial Court Op. at 6; Exhibit CR-9; H.T. at 145-46, 149, 153-54, 157-58, 174-75, R.R. at 208a-209a, 212a, 216a-217a, 220a-221a, 237a-238a; Petition for Establishment of a New Representation Plan Exs. A-C, R.R. at 15a-19a.) CROP did not obtain any signatures supporting ...


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