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Pa. group says school board's bond meeting violated the law

September 28, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A group of Chambersburg Area School District residents has filed a notice that it intends to sue the school board, claiming it violated the state's Sunshine Act at an Aug. 25 meeting at which it authorized its bond counsel to prepare a $116 million debt resolution for a building program.

"The basis of the lawsuit is that, by failing to advertise the meeting of Aug. 25 according to the terms of the act, they took action which my clients argue is null and void," David Yoder, the group's attorney, said Monday.

"We're asking the board to do it over again," Yoder said.

The notice was filed Friday on behalf of Marlin Wagner, Gerald Moore, Mary Ellen Moore and Tracy Smith, according to the Franklin County Prothonotary's Office.

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Yoder said it needed to be done to meet a 30-day deadline for filing a suit claiming a Sunshine Act violation.

The suit detailing the alleged violation of the Sunshine Act will be filed at a later date, Yoder said.

Yoder said the board authorized its bond counsel at the Aug. 25 special meeting to advertise the debt resolution and fixed the amount to be borrowed.

The vote on the resolution was taken on Sept. 1, two days before a deadline for districts to incur debt before a new school property tax reform law went into effect.

The law could make it more difficult for districts to borrow money for large capital improvement projects because it would tie increases in real estate taxes to an inflationary index set by the state.

If the board's action were to be declared null and void, Yoder said the board might need to have the plan approved by a referendum.

"One of my clients' concerns was that an obligation of this size, undertaken under severe time pressures, was almost bound to leave the public out of the loop," Yoder said.

Yoder alleged that the Sunshine Act was violated because the district failed to advertise the special meeting in "the newspaper of general circulation in the political subdivision taking the action," in this case, the Public Opinion. For a special meeting, Yoder said the advertisement must appear no sooner than three days prior to the meeting.

Jan Sulcove, the school district's attorney, did not return phone calls to his office Monday.

Rick Vensel, the school district's business manager, said it is the practice of the district to advertise meetings in both the Public Opinion and The Record Herald of Waynesboro, Pa.

"We faxed off the legal notices to the two papers and we got a fax receipt that they were received," Vensel said.

"I don't have the proof of publication. That often doesn't come through until the billing comes through," Vensel said.

"I get the paper and I scrutinize it pretty closely," Wagner said Monday. He said he did not see the legal advertisement.

"I think they've got to follow the rules like the rest of us," he said.

At the Aug. 25 meeting, the school board authorized the administration to advertise a bond resolution to pay for an $83 million high school at a new site, two elementary schools at about $14 million each and $5 million for land acquisition.

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