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The Commissioner of Education has formally denied Mr. Lang's motion for emergency relief, by seeking to completely circumvent the Court's ruling, saying it's now time to do a new review on the Lakewood School District.

Fearing that Board of Education Attorney Michael Inzelbuch will collude with the Commissioner to assist in delaying appropriate funding for Lakewood, Mr. Lang has vowed to return to court to stop this subterfuge.

As the news was broken here on FAA News, on March 6, in a massive win for Lakewood's taxpayers and students, the New Jersey Appellate Division granted a major win to Arthur Lang in his long running lawsuit known as Alcantra vs. Hespe, which seeks for a fairer funding formula for the Lakewood Public School District.

The 3-judge panel concluded that the record generated before the Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) cannot fairly be said to support a finding Lakewood's students are receiving a constitutionally sound education, and therefore, the Commissioner of Education owed the appellants a thorough review of their substantive argument - that the funding structure of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was unconstitutional as applied to Lakewood's unique demographic situation.

The issue with this long awaited ruling, however, is that the Appellate Division did not set any deadline for when this "thorough review" is to occur.

As previously reported here on FAA News, on May 1, Professor Trachtenberg and Mr. Lang filed a formal Motion for Emergency Relief seeking for the Commissioner of Education to complete the remand by May 15, 2023.

As previously reported here on FAA News, on May 9, Deputy Attorney General Carolyn G. Labin, from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office responded with a letter in Opposition to the Petitioners’ motion for emergent relief.

The Opposition provides legal articulation why the Petitioners' motion for emergent relief must be denied.

"The Appellate Division neither retained jurisdiction nor expedited the remand. Instead, the Commissioner is entitled to and should issue a well- reasoned, supported decision, considering the cause of the deprivation of T&E to the District’s students in due course. Petitioners’ request to rush the Commissioner does not further anyone’s interest. Accordingly, Petitioners’ motion should be denied," the Attorney General's Office added.

Subsequently, on Friday, May 12, the Commissioner of Education doubled down with a shocking decision (i.e. yet another delay tactic) - merely that the court's review of the District was on years past, and the time has come for her department to do another in-depth review as to how well Lakewood schools are doing currently!

"In light of the Appellate Division’s finding, and in order to execute my obligations under the remand
and provide a well-informed opinion as to whether the SFRA is constitutional as applied to Lakewood,
I am now directing the Department to expedite the comprehensive review referenced in my final
decision. The facts and data that comprised the record before the Office of Administrative Law, the
Commissioner, and the Appellate Division, relate primarily to the 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-
18, and 2018-19 school years. Because this information is now outdated and the subsequent
intervening years will have revealed additional relevant and informative data, coupled with the fact that there have been unprecedented changes in the field of education as a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, an updated record is required in order to make an appropriately informed decision about the SFRA and its application to Lakewood.

"The review will require the engagement of experts to examine Lakewood’s operations and performance in several key areas, including educational policy, special education, administration and governance, and accounting. In addition to these areas, the review will include, but will not be limited to, an examination of the particular areas of concern raised by petitioners in these proceedings, such as transportation costs for Lakewood’s students, and special education funding.

"Upon completion of this expedited comprehensive review, Lakewood and the petitioners will have an opportunity to respond to the resulting report and recommendations prior to the issuance of a final agency decision on the as-applied constitutionality of the SFRA.

"In addition to assisting in that determination, the comprehensive review will also allow the Department to better identify the root causes that led to the educational deprivations identified by the court and determine the appropriate responses.

"In the interim, the Department is exploring what
assistance, relief, or aid may be available to more immediately remedy the noted educational
deficiencies, including, but not limited to, the Department’s July 8, 2022 and May 10, 2023 approval of the District’s application for a waiver to proceed with contracting for student transportation services for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years. In addition, the Department has provided Lakewood monetary assistance, relief and aid through the provisions of loans against State aid beginning in June 2015 and through March 2021 totaling $137,420.524.00. Most recently, and following the influx of Federal funding beginning with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act beginning in 2020, on May 1, 2023 Lakewood received an additional approval of a loan against State aid for the 2022-2023 school year in the amount of $27,704,046.00.

"Once the expedited comprehensive review is complete, the Department will be better equipped on how best to ensure that Lakewood’s public
school students receive the necessary education required by our State’s Constitution," the Commissioner concluded.

In an additional more formal response to Mr. Lang's motion, the Education Department wrote:

"In light of the [Commissioner's comprehensive] letter, the Commissioner concludes that the motion must be denied, as it is now moot...

"With the Commissioner’s determination of a schedule for the proceedings in this matter, as outlined in the May 12, 2023, letter, there is no longer any question pertaining to the timing of her decision that requires resolution.

"Accordingly, petitioners’ motion for emergent relief is denied."

Essentially, the Commissioner of Education is attempting to circumvent the Appellate Division's decision that the funding formula is unconditional as to Lakewood because Lakewood fails to provide a Thorough & Efficient Education (T&E), by saying that the court only reviewed the district from years past and now its her turn to review the District from "the here and now."

"The Commissioner erred. The Appellate Division clearly ruled that the Commissioner owed appellants a thorough review of their substantive argument: the funding structure of the SFRA was unconstitutional as applied to Lakewood's unique demographic situation. In other words, whether or not Lakewood provides T&E is a matter which has already been decided in court. The only remand to the Commissioner is simply if funding structure of the SFRA was unconstitutional as applied to Lakewood's unique demographic situation," stated Arthur Lang, dubiously shaking his head.

Aside from the legal facts of what the Appellate Division already ruled is out of the Commissioner's jurisdiction, the major issue with this game plan is that this "thorough review" will involve the Board of Education, boosted by Attorney Michael Inzelbuch, who are, oddly enough, the very players who have been attempting for years to sabotage Mr. Lang's 10 year efforts to get more funding for Lakewood, by arguing vehemently that they do provide T&E!

"The District is a culture of fear. Teachers are typically fired or transfered, if tenured, for speaking out. Therefore, no teacher or principal will speak to the Commissioner about deficiencies. The district, fearing Inzelbuch, will arm the commissioner with victory," warned Lang.

In response, Mr. Lang now intends to file an interlocutory appeal, asking the Appellate Division to intervene and not allow the commissioner to get away with this subterfuge.

Additionally, Mr. Lang sent the following letter to the Roshei Mosdos:

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does the District not provide T & E with the State loans? If not, why don't they ask for additional funds? The arguement shouldn't be about T & E. The real issue is how it should be funded.