Petitioning the Commissioner of Education to remove a member of a school board from his or her office
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #17,055
A number of district residents, taxpayers and current or former members of the Board of Education [Petitioners] sought to have a sitting member of the Board of Education [Respondent] removed from his office by action of the Commissioner of Education pursuant to §306 Education Law. Petitioners alleged that the Respondent was guilty of "willful violation of the Education Law, General Municipal Law §805-a(1)(b) and Public Officers Law §105, and engaging in acts of willful misconduct in violation of the [school] district's code of ethics and policies concerning the confidential nature of the board's executive sessions."
Finding that there were a number of procedural defects in their appeal, the Commissioner dismissed Petitioners' complaint without reaching its merits.
First, said the Commissioner, Petitioners' application must be denied as moot as only matters in actual controversy will be considered and no decision will be rendered "on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest." In arriving at this ruling the Commissioner took "administrative notice that the official website" of the school district indicated that the Respondent "no longer serves on the board of education." Thus the issue of his removal from office was a matter that had been "laid to rest."
The Commissioner then said that even if the Petitioners' application had not been dismissed as moot, it would have been denied because of the following procedural error or omissions:
1. Lack of proper service" as Petitioners did not personally serve their complaint "upon each named respondent;" and
2. The notice of petition was defective as it did not specifically advise a school officer that an application was being made for his or her removal from office by using the notice prescribed under 8 NCYRR §275.11(a) for appeals brought pursuant to Education Law §310.
The Commissioner explained that "A notice of petition which fails to contain the language required by the Commissioner’s regulation is fatally defective and does not secure jurisdiction over the intended respondent" as it is the notice of petition that alerts a party to the fact that he or she is the subject of removal proceedings. Thus the Petitioners' "failure to comply with 8 NYCRR §277.1(b) necessarily results in a jurisdictional failure and requires dismissal."
That said, the Commissioner noted that although the Petitioners' application must be dismissed on procedural grounds, there was yet "one administrative matter" to be consider.
The Respondent in this action had requested that the Commissioner issue a "certificate of good faith" pursuant to Education Law §3811(1) thereby authorizing the Board to indemnify him for "legal fees and expenses incurred in defending a proceeding arising out of the exercise of his powers or performance of duties as a board member."
The Commissioner explained that it was appropriate to issue such certification "unless it is established on the record that the requesting board member acted in bad faith."
As the Petitioners' application in this action was denied on procedural grounds and there had been no finding that Respondent acted in bad faith, the Commissioner certified, "solely for the purpose of Education Law §3811(1)" that the Respondent is entitled to a certificate of good faith.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: