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April 16, 2015

COA considers alternative arguments in Galien Township school funding case and upholds its earlier decision

The Michigan Court of Appeals in Galien Township School District v. Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, No. 317739 considered Galien Township's alternative arguments that it did not consider in its original opinion decided in favor of the Michigan Board of Education. The Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the COA to decide the issues of procedural due process violations and violation of the best evidence requirement of MCL 388.1614.
 
As discussed in our post on the original decision, Galien Township School District and Delton-Kellogg Schools admitted to teacher misconduct in reporting student attendance.  Accordingly, the Department of Education audited the Galiens’ prior attendance records.  The investigation could not verify several hundred full-time equivalent students (FTEs) reported by each District.  So the Department reduced state aid to Galien by $750,000 and to Delton-Kellogg by $1,500,000.  Galien contested the Department’s findings in an administrative appeal, first to the Department, and then to the Superintendent of Instruction.  Galien’s administrative appeal process resulted in 37.11 FTEs being reinstated.  After losing at the Circuit Court and the COA, the Township appealed to the Supreme Court which remanded the case back to the COA to consider the issues of procedural due process and the best evidence requirement.
 
The Court first determined that the Township was given the process it was due, thus there was no violation of the due process clause of the United States or Michigan Constitutions. The Court reasoned that the anonymous tip that eventually led to the reduction in funding was not the reason for the reduction, thus there was no violation of due process on the basis of the tip being anonymous.  The Court determined that the reduction in funding did not result from the allegations of the anonymous tip, rather the reduction in funding was due to the Department of Education audit on the basis of the tip.
 
Galien also argued that the Director of the Department of Education was not an unbiased decision maker which represented another violation of the Galien's procedural due process rights. The Court, however, disagreed. It held that although the Director served as the investigator, prosecutor, and decision maker, she was not personally responsible for conducting the audits and she was acting on a reliable tip when she ordered the audits. Further, the Court pointed to the fact that the Director had actually reinstated some of the funding that was clawed back by the state. Thus, the Court found no procedural due process violations.
 
The Court then considered whether the best evidence requirement of MCL 388.1614 was violated because the superintendent refused to consider electronic evidence records that supported Galien's position that its FTE counts were accurate. The Court again found in favor of the Department of Education and held that the "electronic records proffered by Galien were not authenticated and were not contemporaneous with the events they purported to evidence, which calls into question their reliability...Based on the questionable nature of the electronic records, Galien has not demonstrated that the proffered electronic records were the best evidence available."
 
The Court then remanded the case to the circuit court for reinstatement of the original decision.

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