Get ready for the legal showdown. City schools now operate at the direction of a state-appointed Board of Education. On Thursday lawyers for the plaintiffs will try to persuade the state Supreme Court to overturn the July 6 decision by the elected board to dissolve itself. Michele Mount (OIB handle MCAT) will argue on behalf of education candidates who wanted to run on the slate of Democratic mayoral challenger Mary-Jane Foster who was defeated by Mayor Bill Finch in a September 27 primary.
The would-be school candidates were at the center of all the legal hullabaloo that delayed the primary date two weeks. Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala invalidated Foster’s entire slate from the primary ballot as a result of one too many candidates for BOE slots. Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis overturned Ayala and placed Foster and most of her slate on the ballot except for the BOE candidates. Mount and Alan Neigher were the legal team that successfully argued Foster on the ballot. But some legal observers maintained the judge was more focused on doing what was fair versus a strict legal interpretation.
Foster, some parents and former school board members in the minority filed suit against the local school board decision arguing a non-elected school board disenfranchises voters. The lawsuits they filed have been consolidated into an expedited hearing by the Supremes. A 2010 state law allows for the dissolution of an elected board under dire circumstances with some standards that must be met such as specialized training by board members to improve efficiency and implementing an action plan. Plaintiffs claim these prerequisites were not met. Mount will also argue the law unconstitutional because it strips home rule and violates free speech.
Mount will be going up against accomplished civil defense lawyers including John Bohannon, a seasoned attorney who has handled many cases on behalf of the City Attorney’s Office and Steven Ecker, an appellate specialist considered among his peers one of the brilliant legal minds in the state with loads of experience arguing cases before the state Supremes.
What say you, is the city better off with a state-controlled board to fix a troubled school system or should voters elect school board members?