The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 21, 2012

School district transfer petition dismissed

Dave Sutor

— A petition made by 39 Jefferson Township property owners to leave the Somerset Area School District has been dismissed.

The signers asked to form their own temporary independent district before eventually becoming part of the Rockwood Area School District.

In issuing his decision, Somerset County Judge David Klementik ruled the majority of the people making the request were not taxable inhabitants of the region nor did they form a contiguous zone bordering the district into which they wanted to transfer.

Rockwood remained neutral during the legal proceedings that included an argument on Aug. 22. Somerset opposed the petition.

“The district is obviously pleased with the decision,” said Somerset’s co-solicitor, Benjamin Carroll.

“We’re pleased that the court agreed with us.”

Robert Boose, attorney for the petitioners, could not be reached for comment.

Thirty-seven of the petition signers do not live in the area.

Rather, they own local property and would have saved a combined $70,000 annually if the switch was ultimately approved because Rockwood’s tax rate is almost 18 mills less than Somerset’s.

Boose argued the petitioners pay real estate taxes in Somerset County and should therefore be considered taxable inhabitants. Klementik determined “only an individual property owner, residing within the proposed ‘contiguous territory’ at the time the petition is filed and personally subject to tax within the district” should be counted as a taxable inhabitant.

Only two of the signers were determined to be paying local earned income tax, adult residence tax or per capita tax.

Boose said since both signed the petition they met Pennsylvania’s requirement of having more than half of the taxable inhabitants being part of the request. But their properties do not directly abut the Rockwood district, which Klementik felt disqualified the petition.

The judge additionally felt dividing Jefferson Township between two districts would violate the state’s general rule of sending students from the same municipality to the same school.

“We’re very pleased with the amount of time that the judge put into his decision,” said Carroll.

Had Klementik ruled in favor of the signers, the petition would have been sent to the state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis for consideration.

The petitioners have 30 days to appeal the ruling.