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Bristol Warren Regional School District v. Town of Warren

Superior Court of Rhode Island

April 4, 2014

BRISTOL WARREN REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT and BRISTOL WARREN REGIONAL SCHOOL COMMITTEE
v.
TOWN OF WARREN BY AND THROUGH ITS TOWN COUNCIL AND ITS TOWN FINANCE DIRECTOR, DENISE SAURETTE

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Andrew D. Henneous, Esq.

For Defendant: Anthony DeSisto, Esq.; Stephanie L. Federico, Esq.; Peter F. Skwirz, Esq.; Michael A. Ursillo, Esq. (interested party)

DECISION

MATOS, J.

Plaintiffs, Bristol Warren Regional School District and Bristol Warren Regional School Committee, (collectively, Plaintiffs) petition this Court for declaratory judgment and a writ of mandamus. Plaintiffs specifically seek a declaration of the rights afforded by chapter 330 of the 1991 Public Laws of the State of Rhode Island and a writ of mandamus ordering Defendant Town of Warren, by and through its Town Council and its Town Finance Director, Denise Saurette, (Defendant) to appropriate its full share of the 2012-2013 Bristol Warren Regional School District budget. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-13.

I

Facts and Travel

A

The Bristol Warren Regional School District

In 1991, the towns of Bristol and Warren agreed to merge their respective school districts to form a regional school district. The Rhode Island General Assembly sanctioned the merger and established the Bristol Warren Regional School District (Regional School District) as a body politic governing all public schools within the towns of Bristol and Warren. P.L. 1991, ch. 330 (Enabling Legislation or E.L.). Stipulation of Facts ¶ 2-4.

Section 1 of the Enabling Legislation expressly declares:

"The town of Bristol and the town of Warren are hereby authorized to establish a regional school district to combine both existing school districts into a single school district. The regional school district shall be established in accordance with the terms of the agreement filed with town councils of the town of Bristol and the town of Warren by the regional school district planning board established under the provision of chapter 16-3 of the general laws, 1956, as amended, and upon approval of the voters of the town of Bristol and the town of Warren."

In addition, the Enabling Legislation establishes the Regional School District's governing terms. Of particular note here, the Enabling Legislation establishes that a Regional School Committee (Regional School Committee) is entrusted to oversee the Regional School District, including the annual passage and adoption of an operating budget. See generally E.L. § 3(IV) and (V). The Regional School Committee is comprised of nine elected members in proportion to each town's population pursuant to the most recent census data. The most recent census dictates that Bristol elects six members to the Regional School Committee, while Warren elects three. The same six-to-three division is utilized for appointment of members to the Joint Finance Committee. Id. at § 3(XI)(3).

B

The Bristol Warren Regional School District Budgetary Process

As described in Section 3(XI), "Preparation and Adoption of Budget, " the Regional School Committee must prepare and approve a budget that efficiently operates the Regional School District. E.L. § 3(XI)(2). Upon its approval, the Regional School Committee provides public notice by posting the proposed budget at each district's town hall and within a newspaper of general circulation. Id. The Enabling Legislation explains:

"The Regional Committee shall prepare and approve a budget which it believes will efficiently operate the regional district for the ensuing fiscal year by March 1 of each year. Upon approving the budget, the regional committee shall, within seven (7) days, post the budget at each town hall in Bristol and Warren, and, within ten (10) days, publish the budget at each town hall in Bristol and Warren, and, within ten (10) days, publish the budget in one or more newspapers of general circulation in each or both towns." Id.

The Regional School Committee's proposed budget is subsequently presented to the Joint Finance Committee consisting of nine appointed members in proportion to each town's population per the most recent census. Id. at 3(XI)(3). The Joint Finance Committee must approve the budget within thirty days' time while also meeting the same general notice procedures of the Regional School Committee. Id. The corresponding statutory language is as follows:

"The Regional Committee shall, by March 1, submit its budget to a joint finance committee for its approval. The joint finance committee shall consist of nine (9) members. Each member of the joint finance committee shall be appointed by the respective town councils of Bristol and Warren for a term of two years. The representation of membership of the joint finance committee shall be apportioned according to the most recent federal census.
"The joint finance committee shall approve a budget within thirty (30) days after the regional committee submits its budget. Upon approval of a budget by the joint finance committee, the regional committee shall, within seven (7) days, post the budget at each town [hall] in Bristol and Warren, and, within ten (10) days, publish the budget in one or more newspapers of general circulation in each of both towns." Id.

After the Joint Finance Committee has approved the Regional School Committee's proposed budget and provided the appropriate public notice, each town's citizens may seek review of the budget by presenting 600 district voter signatures to the Regional School Committee. Id. at § 3(XI)(4). The signatures must be presented within fourteen days of the Joint Finance Committee's approval. Id. If sufficient signatures are collected, a regional district financial meeting ...


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