School Board Chair Has Authority to Fill Vacancies on Cooperative School District Budget Committee

Sanborn Regional School District v. Budget Committee of the Sanborn Regional School District
Sanborn Regional School District v. Budget Committee of the Sanborn Regional School District
No. 2003-290
Monday, November 10, 2003

When a vacancy on the cooperative school district budget committee was created by the resignation of a member, the budget committee, following RSA 32:15, VII, appointed a replacement. Meanwhile, the school board chairman appointed a different person to fill the vacancy, and both took the oath of office. The school board then petitioned the superior court for an injunction to prevent the budget committee’s appointee, as well as any future budget committee appointee, from serving and sought a court order requiring the budget committee to seat the school board chair’s appointee. The superior court granted the school board’s preliminary injunction request in October 2002. In April 2003 the superior court denied the budget committee’s motion for summary judgment and granted the school board’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

The budget committee then appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, arguing that RSA 32:15, VII governs appointments to fill vacancies on the budget committee. That statute says that when a vacancy occurs in an elected at-large position on the budget committee, they “shall be filled by appointment by the budget committee.”

The school district argued that RSA 195:12-a and 671:33 – and not RSA 32:15 – applies to filling vacancies on cooperative school district budget committees. RSA 195:12-a permits a cooperative school district to establish a budget committee pursuant to RSA 32:14. It also says that a cooperative school district budget committee “shall have the powers and duties of the municipal budget committee under the provisions of RSA 32 insofar as the budget for the cooperative school district is concerned and insofar as RSA 32 is applicable to the cooperative school budget.”

[RSA 195:12-a further states that “terms of office” of cooperative school district budget committee members “shall be determined in the same manner as for the cooperative school board.” RSA Chapter 671 governs terms of office for the cooperative school board. More specifically, RSA 671:33 states that vacancies on the cooperative school district budget committee are to be filled by the district moderator if brought to his or her attention, or by the cooperative school board chairperson if called to the chairperson’s attention.

The Court agreed with the school district’s argument that RSA Chapter 195 deals more specifically with cooperative school districts while RSA Chapter 32 deals more generally with municipal budget committees and, therefore, controls. The Court considered the case in light of several well-settled rules of statutory construction, including the rule that “in the case of conflicting statutory provisions, the specific statute controls over the more general statute.”

This case applies to vacancies on budget committees established by cooperative school districts, not to municipal budget committees in towns in which a school district is located wholly within that town.