Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf issued an opinion on April 2 affirming an administrative law judge’s decision that the boards of education of Princeton Regional Schools, South Brunswick Township and West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional Schools did not exceed their authority when they spent public funds to oppose a charter school through zoning board challenges and other activities.
The case arose after the Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), a Mandarin Chinese-language school, received approval from the state Department of Education in January 2010, with a projected opening date of September 2010. PIACS has not yet opened, since it has not received zoning board approval in the locations where it has sought to open a school.
In 2011, PIACS filed suit against the three districts, charging the boards spent local funds to oppose the charter school.
According to the decision, Cerf said that "upon a comprehensive review of the record before him, the Commissioner is compelled to agree with the ALJ that summary decision is appropriately granted to respondents, as he concurs that there is no legal authority which precludes respondents from engaging in the contested actions set forth above.”
Cerf seemed to suggest that he did not believe that boards’ authority was limitless. He agreed with the administrative law judge that boards of education possess broad discretionary authority, but emphasized that such authority is not unfettered. “Exercise of this discretionary authority – particularly with respect to the expenditure of public funds – must be in furtherance of a legitimate board interest,” the decision stated.
The commissioner’s decision can be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, but no appeal has yet been filed.