Judge sides with school board, decides in favor of three voting regions
DOYLESTOWN – Pennsbury will retain its three voting regions, with adjustments, under a decision rendered Nov. 21 by Bucks County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Susan Devlin Scott.
In her decision, Judge Scott said a realignment plan submitted by the district “is preferable because it maintains the WrDdLWLRnDO cRnfiJurDWLRn RI Whe dLsWrLcW” and that it is “less disruptive to the overall representational scheme because it moves just three precincts – out of the 35 SrecLncWs Ln Whe dLsWrLcW – WR new reJLRns.”
Judge Scott also said, “A three-region plan is better equipped to absorb shifts in population, which ensures stability in the IuWure.”
The decision means there will still be three voting districts, but each will have close-to-equal representation. Region 1 will have 23,928 people (33.62 percent), Region 2 will have 23,273 (32.70 percent) and Region 3 will have 23,964 (33.67 percent). Three board members will be elected from each region.
The district’s school board in June passed the three-region plan in order to comply with laws designated under the state’s constitution, which requires that voting regions have equal representation.
A citizen’s group, Concerned Residents Of Pennsbury (CROP), challenged the school district’s plan in court, asking the judge to consider an alternate plan that would create nine voting regions, each sending one representative to the board of school directors.
John McDonnell, the former Pennsbury Education Association (PEA) president who worked for more than 30 years in the
district’s music department, presented CROP’s plan that was signed by more than 3,800 school district residents. The board’s plan was known as “Administration 2” while CROP’s plan was tagged “Citizen 1.”
CROP’s attorney, David Truelove, said he was not surprised when he was informed that the board’s plan was approved.
“diven the judge’s discussion at the oral argument in October, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Truelove said. “We have to live with it right now.”
Truelove said that CROP had devised its own threerHJIRN SODN, EuW NHvHr RIficially presented it, using it instead as a point of comparison with the district’s plan.
“We didn’t present it as an alternate plan, per se,” Truelove said. “ead we done that, perhaps [the decision] would have been different.”
After sorting through both plans and hearing arguments for each, President Judge Scott determined that both plans met the criteria for realignment contained in the school code, which is why the decision came down to “which of the two plans would best serve the needs of the school district,” according to the offiFIDO ZrIWWHN FRSy RI 3rHsIdent Judge Scott’s decision.
Pennsbury School Board solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik said the ruling underscores what the board has been arguing since the process started.
“Judge Scott essentially adopted what the Pennsbury School Board has been saying from day one about the board’s petition versus CROP’s petition,” Sultanik said. “The board’s … plan preserves the district’s three regions, equalizes the population among the three regions, and does not impact any existing seated board member.”
One thing both sides agreed on was that the school district’s current FRNfiJurDWIRN KDG EHFRPH too unbalanced, with a difference of more than 13 percent between the most and least populated regions. The board’s plan lowers that number to 2.91 percent, while CROP’s plan proposed a 7.44 percent deviation.
Despite the numbers and President Judge Scott’s pledge to keep politics out of her decision, much of the two sides’ arguments have political undertones. CROP’s plan would have altered the way the school board is currently constituted, which some have argued was the sole motivation for CROP’s plan to begin with.
In a letter dated June 19, 2012 from Pennsbury Education Association President deorge Miller to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), Miller asked the PSEA for fiNDNFIDO DssIsWDNFH WR fiJKW the legal battle, in part because under the nine-region plan, “there can be only one representative per region … [School board vice president Simon] Campbell and another member of his majority, hathleen wawacki, whose terms end in 2013 ZRuOG fiNG WKHy KDvH NR seat to run for re-election.”
collowing Tuesday’s release of President Judge Scott’s decision, Campbell penned a letter of his own, asking for PEA members to take a “salary reduction in the amount of legal fees that the school district was needlessly forced to incur.”