Lower Merion School District has asked the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to overturn a lower court's order that the District revoke a portion of a 4.4 percent tax increase needed to fund special education programs and state-mandated employee retirement fund contributions and close a $9.3 million deficit in its 2016-17 budget.
In a brief filed Thursday, the District's attorneys argue that the Court of Common Pleas' August decision should not stand for the following reasons:
The lower court lacked the authority to make the decision it did.
- Lower Merion School District did not make the decision to raise taxes on its own; it did so after the Pennsylvania Department of Education reviewed and approved it.
- The Pennsylvania General Assembly gave the Department of Education alone the right and power to review the tax increase that the lower court's order overturns.
There was no right to an injunction – the relief the Court of Common Pleas awarded.
- An injunction is supposed to be issued only to stop unlawful behavior, and the District tax increase was lawful.
- The only two people who testified at the preliminary injunction hearing both testified that the District was legally permitted to raise taxes for the 2016-17 school year by the full 4.44 percent, and the statutes confirm as much.
The Court did not find any of the prerequisites to grant preliminary injunctive relief. In fact, the Plaintiffs barely argued for them.
By its nature, an injunction – particularly a mandatory injunction – is extraordinary relief that is rarely warranted. The Plaintiffs had the burden to prove that they were entitled to relief by showing six things. They proved none of them as evidenced below:
1. The injunction is needed to prevent immediate and irreparable harm that cannot be adequately compensated by damages.
The Plaintiffs did not show immediate or irreparable harm to them.
2. Greater injury would result from refusing an injunction than from granting it.
The Plaintiffs failed to show that they would be hurt more than the District; it is the District that is harmed by not having the lawful tax dollars going forward.
3. An injunction will properly restore the parties to their status as it existed prior to the alleged wrongful conduct.
The District was lawful in enacting the tax increase; the injunction took them out of that status.
4. The right to relief by the party seeking the injunction is clear.
The Plaintiffs are complaining about philosophy and policy, not about unlawful behavior.
5. The injunction is reasonably suited to abate the offending activity.
There was nothing reasonably suited or narrowly drawn about this injunction, as there was required to be; it was entered to punish the District, not to protect anything of the Plaintiffs'.
6. An injunction will not adversely affect the public interest.
The injunction did not consider public interest.
a. The public interest is in upholding the statutes that guide us in how to educate our children – all of our children – and to make the retirement contributions the Commonwealth requires in honoring the persons who dedicate their careers to educating our children.
b. The General Assembly has delegated the authority to approve the Act 1 exemptions for tax increases to the Department of Education. As to the remaining budgeting decisions, the Supreme Court has said that decisions about educational policy and educational funding should be made by elected officials - both those in the General Assembly and those on school boards. The public interest is in reserving these questions for the people elected to address them, not to trial courts.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials jointly filed an amicus brief in support of Lower Merion School District's appeal. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association also filed an amicus brief in support of Lower Merion School District's appeal. We are very grateful for the insight they provided the Court into the broad issues of how the educational system functions, with statutes and a watchful Commonwealth agency overseeing those statutes on the one hand, and with voters determining who speaks on their behalf on the other.