Randolph County Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, No. 22902

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtAppeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County, John Henning; CLECKLEY; MILLER; ALBRIGHT
Citation196 W.Va. 9,467 S.E.2d 150
Parties, 107 Ed. Law Rep. 324 RANDOLPH COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. Chris ADAMS, et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.
Decision Date14 December 1995
Docket NumberNo. 22902

Page 150

467 S.E.2d 150
196 W.Va. 9, 107 Ed. Law Rep. 324
RANDOLPH COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
Chris ADAMS, et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.
No. 22902.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted Sept. 26, 1995.
Decided Dec. 14, 1995.

Page 153

[196 W.Va. 12] Syllabus by the Court

1. "A circuit court's entry of a declaratory judgment is reviewed de novo." Syllabus Point 3, Cox v. Amick, 195 W.Va. 608, 466 S.E.2d 459 (1995).

2. "Appellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo." Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995).

3. Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution creates a strong presumption in favor of making everything that is deemed a necessary component to public education cost-free. When a board of education seeks to charge parents for their children's participation in public education, the board bears a heavy burden in rebutting this constitutionally based presumption.

4. " 'Where a provision of a constitution is clear in its terms and of plain interpretation to any ordinary and reasonable mind, it should be applied and not construed.' Syl.Pt. 3, State ex rel. Smith v. Gore, 150 W.Va. 71, 143 S.E.2d 791 (1965)." Syllabus Point 1, Jarrett Printing Co. v. Riley, 188 W.Va. 393, 424 S.E.2d 738 (1992).

5. " 'Courts are not concerned with the wisdom or expediences of constitutional provisions, and the duty of the judiciary is merely to carry out the provisions of the plain language stated in the constitution.' Syl.Pt. 3, State ex rel. Casey v. Pauley, 158 W.Va. 298, 210 S.E.2d 649 (1975)." Syllabus Point 2, Jarrett Printing Co. v. Riley, 188 W.Va. 393, 424 S.E.2d 738 (1992).

6. " 'The mandatory requirements of "a thorough and efficient system of free schools" found in Article XII, Section 1 of the West Virginia Constitution, make education a fundamental, constitutional right in this State.' Syl. pt. 3, Pauley v. Kelly, 162 W.Va. 672, 255 S.E.2d 859 (1979)." Syllabus Point 1, State ex rel. Board of Education for County of Grant v. Manchin, 179 W.Va. 235, 366 S.E.2d 743 (1988).

7. Whatever items are deemed necessary to accomplish the goals of a school system and are in fact an integral fundamental part of the elementary and secondary education must be provided free of charge to all students in order to comply with the constitutional mandate of a free school system pursuant to Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County, John Henning, Judge.

Harry M. Rubenstein, Kay, Casto, Chaney, Love & Wise, Morgantown, John O. Kizer, Kay, Casto, Chaney, Love & Wise, Charleston, David W. Hart, Prosecuting Attorney, Elkins, for Appellant.

Earl W. Maxwell, Elkins, for Appellees.

CLECKLEY, Justice:

The plaintiff below and appellant herein, Randolph County Board of Education (Board), appeals from an order of the Circuit Court of Randolph County, which held in a declaratory judgment action that it was unconstitutional

Page 154

[196 W.Va. 13] for the Board to charge parents of non-needy school children a book user fee for school books and materials necessary for the completion of the "required school curriculum."

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 26, 1993, the Board, after losing a levy at the polls, established a book user fee for non-needy school children. The Board asserts that the "driving force" behind the fee system was the serious financial difficulties of the school system. According to the Board, its deficit at the end of the 1993-94 school year was $490,000. The deficit purportedly grew to $800,000 at the end of the 1994-95 school year. 1 The parents of kindergarten children were charged $30.00, parents of first through sixth graders were charged $60.00, and parents of junior and senior high school students were charged $80.00. The Board based the fee system on a recommendation from the Textbook Funding Committee which obtained information from various school systems.

The Board reduced the book user fee by one-half for the 1994-95 school year so parents of kindergarten children paid $15.00, first through sixth graders paid $30.00, and junior and senior high school students paid $40.00. The decision to reduce the fee was based, in part, on the fact that no new textbooks were adopted for the 1994-95 school year.

According to the defendants below and appellees herein, 2 the Board's book user fee essentially amounted to tuition because the fee was mandatory on a non-needy basis regardless of what type of books and materials was given to the child and regardless of whether the parents purchased textbooks through private vendors. The Board claims, and there is no evidence to the contrary, that no student was deprived of a textbook or restricted from school based on nonpayment of the book user fee. The Board created a standard for classifying students by economic need by relying on a list of children actually receiving reduced cost or free meals through a school lunch program. The book user fee was ultimately imposed only upon the 40 percent of students deemed non-needy (60 percent of the students in the Randolph County School system were participating in the free or reduced school lunch program). However, parents whose children qualified for free or reduced meals but chose not to participate were charged the book user fee. No procedure was established to separate children who may have been needy and qualified under other need based programs and either chose not to apply or simply failed to apply for assistance. According to the defendants, the book user fee was specifically designed to equal the amount needed for the deficit in purchasing books. 3

On June 7, 1994, the Board filed a petition for declaratory judgment directing over one hundred parties (single parents and married couples who were parents of school children) to pay the book user fee. In response, the defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendants asserted the book user fee was unconstitutional and the Board's establishment of the fee was ultra vires.

The circuit court held hearings on August 22, September 1, and October 24, 1994. On December 13, 1994, the circuit court ruled the book user fee was unconstitutional and dismissed the Board's suit. The circuit court held: "[I]t is unconstitutional for the Randolph County Board of Education to charge for textbooks and materials necessary for the completion of the required school curriculum and those textbooks and materials necessary for completion of the required school curriculum must be provided free of charge."

The Board then sought a stay from the circuit court's order pending the outcome of

Page 155

[196 W.Va. 14] this appeal. The circuit court denied the Board's motion for stay, but granted the Board a period of thirty days to seek a stay from this Court. We granted the Board's stay pending this appeal. 4 The Board now appeals the circuit court's order claiming that not only is the book user fee constitutional, but that judicial precedent and statutory authority grant the Board the right to charge such textbook user fees for non-needy school children.

II.

DISCUSSION

In this appeal, we are asked to clarify, if not define, what is meant in the West Virginia Constitution by "free schools." This case is our second encounter with the "free schools" language in Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution. In Vandevender v. Cassell, 158 W.Va. 87, 208 S.E.2d 436 (1974), we left unresolved the very question presented in this appeal. Thus, the specific question before us today is unanswered by binding precedent of this Court. The textbook user fee system at issue was adopted by the Board in response to an unfortunate reality: the rejection of a school levy by the citizens of Randolph County that, if passed, would have avoided the necessity for the adoption of such a fee. Nevertheless, we now determine that the "free schools" clause prevents local school authorities from charging students and their parents a fee for the use of necessary textbooks. In voiding the fee under the West Virginia Constitution, we attempt to avoid engrafting upon this constitutional provision a judicial gloss so protean, elusive, or arbitrary as to prevent the political branches from performing their mandatory constitutional function of providing "for a thorough and efficient system of free schools." Our cautious approach in construing Section 1, therefore, is intended not to excessively encroach on the powers which the Constitution has reserved for the Legislature.

A.

Standard of Review

This appeal arises from the circuit court's granting of a pretrial motion to dismiss in a declaratory judgment action. Accordingly, our review of the issue arising from this dismissal is plenary. As we recently noted in Syllabus Point 3 of Cox v. Amick, 195 W.Va. 608, 466 S.E.2d 459 (1995):

"A circuit court's entry of a declaratory judgment is reviewed de novo."

Similarly, in Syllabus Point 2 of State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995), we stated:

"Appellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo."

Most importantly, the issue presented in this appeal is a matter of construction of our Constitution and mandates de novo review by this Court.

B.

Analysis

The "free schools" clause contained in Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution provides: "The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools." Its central mandate is to require equal and quality educational opportunities for all West Virginians. Though the application of this imperative raises difficult choices and questions, the framers of our Constitution enacted Section 1 to...

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32 practice notes
  • State ex rel. Carenbauer v. Hechler, No. 27458.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 31, 2000
    ...this behavior is simply outside the express terms of our social compact. As we recognized in Randolph County Board of Education v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 (1995), "[w]hen the Constitution is silent on a particular issue, the solution cannot be found in a methodology that requires......
  • Kanawha Cnty. Pub. Library Bd., Corp. v. Bd. of Educ. of the Cnty. of Kanawha, Nos. 11–1224
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 22, 2013
    ...review legislative and administrative attempts to alter what are alleged as constitutional mandates.” Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 24, 467 S.E.2d 150, 165 (1995). That the statute at issue is subject to equal protection analysis is fairly self-evident by virtue of the pr......
  • Cathe A. v. Doddridge County Bd. of Educ., No. 23350
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 3, 1997
    ...review of a circuit court's interpretation of the West Virginia Constitution is also de novo. Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 The Safe Schools Act--Facial Constitutional Analysis Syllabus Point 3 of Pauley v. Kelly, 162 W.Va. 672, 255 S.E.2d 859 (1979), state......
  • Highland Mining Co. v. W. Va. Univ. Sch. of Med., No. 14–0370.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 21, 2015
    ...extend to institutions of higher education such as WVU. See W.Va. Const. art. XII, § 1 ; Syl. Pt. 7, Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 (1995) ( “Whatever items are deemed necessary to accomplish the goals of a school system and are in fact an integral fundament......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • State ex rel. Carenbauer v. Hechler, No. 27458.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 31, 2000
    ...this behavior is simply outside the express terms of our social compact. As we recognized in Randolph County Board of Education v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 (1995), "[w]hen the Constitution is silent on a particular issue, the solution cannot be found in a methodology that requires......
  • Kanawha Cnty. Pub. Library Bd., Corp. v. Bd. of Educ. of the Cnty. of Kanawha, Nos. 11–1224
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 22, 2013
    ...review legislative and administrative attempts to alter what are alleged as constitutional mandates.” Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 24, 467 S.E.2d 150, 165 (1995). That the statute at issue is subject to equal protection analysis is fairly self-evident by virtue of the pr......
  • Cathe A. v. Doddridge County Bd. of Educ., No. 23350
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 3, 1997
    ...review of a circuit court's interpretation of the West Virginia Constitution is also de novo. Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 The Safe Schools Act--Facial Constitutional Analysis Syllabus Point 3 of Pauley v. Kelly, 162 W.Va. 672, 255 S.E.2d 859 (1979), state......
  • Highland Mining Co. v. W. Va. Univ. Sch. of Med., No. 14–0370.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 21, 2015
    ...extend to institutions of higher education such as WVU. See W.Va. Const. art. XII, § 1 ; Syl. Pt. 7, Randolph Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 (1995) ( “Whatever items are deemed necessary to accomplish the goals of a school system and are in fact an integral fundament......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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