March 24, 2012

Bankruptcy Judge Rules that Central Falls' School District is Separate from the City

Carroll Andrew Morse

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey has issued a preliminary ruling that the Central Falls School District is not part of the City of Central Falls. The Projo has the complete ruling available here.

Specifically, Judge Bailey rejected a request from Central Falls receiver Robert Flanders to issue a declaration "that the School District is part of the City and therefore, ipso facto, the collective bargaining process is within the Bankruptcy Court’s subject matter jurisdiction".

Judge Bailey's reasoning is that...

  1. School committees are parts of local government...
  2. which the state legislature, under its Constitutional grant of authority for education, has "vested" "the entire care, control, and management of all public school interests in the several cities and towns".
  3. However, in a 2007 referendum, the people of Central Falls approved changes to their City Charter which eliminated their school committee...
  4. ...meaning that they eliminated the organ of their municipal government authorized to exercise local jurisdiction over the schools...
  5. ...through the process specified in Home Rule Article of the State Constitution for making permanent changes to local forms of government...
  6. ...and that this act, when combined with the laws that placed the Central Falls school system under the control of a Board of Trustees appointed by the State Education Board of Regents and "not mentioned in the City’s charter [or] answerable to City authorities"...
  7. ...fully separated the Central Falls school district from the City of Central Falls.
The judge also goes through a list of factors which he deems irrelevant to this determination, including issues like Central Falls receiving almost all of its education funding from the state, and the school department and the city maintaining separate bank accounts.

Though I am not predisposed to favor the outcome, I have to say that Judge Bailey's reasoning is pretty solid, given the Constitutional structure of Rhode Island government and the laws that have been passed under it. This ruling also strongly suggests that it is only Central Falls' school district that is part of the state, at least until such time as other municipalities begin holding local referenda to wipe out their school committees (though I'm not sure how the regional districts cleanly fit in to all of this).

There are still some process hurdles to be cleared, but where this is likely leading to the bankruptcy court also rejecting a second item that Receiver Flanders asked for a ruling on, "that the Receiver has the power under the Fiscal Stability Act to act on behalf of the City relative to collective bargaining with the Union".

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Judge Bailey's decision appears soundly reasoned.

His conclusions, however, lead to some other questions.

If the Board of Trustees are really a state board and not a municipal one, then are they properly constituted?

Art. IX, sec. 5 vests appointment power over such boards in the Governor.

If the Superintendent is not a municipal official, but instead an "inferior officer" of the state, then, again pursuant to Art. IX, sec. 5, the appointment cannot be made by the Trustees but must be filled by the Governor, with advice and consent.

Posted by: brassband at March 24, 2012 2:33 PM
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