Marlboro files challenge to FRHSD voting system

By karl vilacoba
Staff Writer

Marlboro files challenge
to FRHSD voting system
By karl vilacoba
Staff Writer

Representatives of Marlboro officially filed a legal complaint last week that aims to change the current voting apportionment of the Freehold Regional High School District Board of Education. The action could be the first of a group of lawsuits that Marlboro officials said are designed to achieve parity in several aspects of FRHSD operations.

On Sept. 18, Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco signed the complaint form naming the FRHSD Board of Education, Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools Michael Maddaluna and state Commissioner of Education William Librera as defendants. The document states that the 2000 census figures show a "maximum population deviation" of 13.74 percent from the still-used 1990 figures, and therefore "exceeds the deviation permissible under ‘one person, one vote’ principle."

In three counts, the complaint alleges that the school board’s current voting apportionment is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, a violation of the New Jersey Constitution and a deprivation of civil rights.

Under the current weighted FRHSD vote apportionment, a nine-point voting system is in place. Howell has two board members for a combined 2 voting points; Marlboro, Manalapan and Freehold Township each have one vote worth 1.4 points; Colts Neck and Freehold Borough each have one vote worth 0.9 points; and Englishtown and Farmingdale each have one vote worth 0.5 voting points.

In an August letter to Maddaluna, Marlboro’s attorney on the matter, Lance Kalik, proposed a new formula that would allot these voting weights: Howell, 2.3 points; Marlboro, 1.7 points; Manalapan, 1.6 points; Freehold Township, 1.5 points; Colts Neck, 0.6 points; Freehold Borough, 0.5 points; Englishtown and Farmingdale, 0.4 voting points each.

On Dec. 21, 2001, the FRHSD board received a letter from Maddaluna which said, "As a result of the 2000 federal census, there will be no change from the present apportionment of your board of education. Your district, which utilizes a weighted vote, as governed by a court decision, will stand as ordered until legislation changes it."

The complaint filed last week by Marlboro also asks for injunctions against any FRHSD votes on "any substantive issues except financial matters that occur in the normal course of business" and it seeks an injunction against a redistricting plan voted on by the board Sept. 9. That and any further vote under the current voting apportionment would be a violation of the three counts of the complaint, according to the document.

Marlboro’s Advisory Committee on Education (ACE), a group of concerned citizens and township officials, have expressed their opposition to the redistricting plan proposed by FRHSD Superintendent of Schools James Wasser and adopted by the board. Beginning in September 2003, that plan would assign a group of Marlboro residents to Colts Neck High School to help balance student enrollment among district high schools. The ACE group believes the redistricting plan was based on incorrect demographic data and that Marlboro High School was not in any immediate need of student movement.

"The demographics by their own admission were old, they were stale," Scannapieco said. "Yet they went ahead and used those old numbers to make a serious decision that affects many lives."

Theresa Rafferty, public information officer of the FRHSD, said, "The district has no specific comment on the litigation in Marlboro. Mr. Wasser maintains that the student attendance plan is being advanced with the best interests of all the students in the high school district."

Rafferty said Wasser encourages anyone with questions about the plan to call his office, adding, "He will take you on a visit to Marlboro High School."

Marlboro is also currently preparing for possible further litigation alleging that the Sept. 9 redistricting vote was "arbitrary and capricious" toward the township. The action will first be filed with the state Board of Education and could wind up in court if it is denied. Officials would not release specifics on the complaint because it is still being prepared by attorneys.

A preliminary report on the financial and educational impact of Marlboro’s possible withdrawal from the FRHSD is expected soon, according to Scannapieco. The township has employed Vincent Yaniro, assistant superintendent for business with the School District of the Chathams, Morris County, to conduct that study.

"We will make sure we have a firm grasp on all of the facts that could affect this decision. We will not do anything on the basis of emotion," Scannapieco said. "We’re not afraid to move forward. We’re not afraid of a bully on the block, and we’re not afraid of going to court."

Students in Howell attend the six schools in the Freehold Regional High School District.