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Kunz v. School Board of Palm Beach County

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

February 14, 2018

PAUL KUNZ, as next friend of W.K., a minor child, Appellant,
v.
SCHOOL BOARD OF PALM BEACH COUNTY, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Lisa S. Small, Judge; L.T. Case No. 2015CA010870XXXXMB.

          Paul Kunz, Boca Raton, for appellant.

          Sean Fahey and Shawntoyia N. Bernard, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Kuntz, J.

         Paul Kunz, as next friend of W.K., [1] filed a complaint asserting the School Board of Palm Beach County ("School Board") falsified its class-size counts to conceal violating article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution. After the circuit court dismissed the complaint without prejudice, W.K. declined to amend the complaint and appealed the court's order.

         On multiple occasions our supreme court has held the constitutional amendment at issue (otherwise known as the Class-Size Amendment) compelled an appropriation of funds by the legislature, not the utilization of any specific procedure by that branch. Because the amendment compelled appropriation to achieve a goal, and not a method of enforcement, it does not provide a private right of action to enforce any specific procedure. Furthermore, such a challenge to the procedure implemented by the legislature, and enforced by the executive branch, is not appropriately addressed by the judiciary. Nor is the judiciary in a position to monitor the classroom count of each classroom in the nearly 4, 200 public schools in this state. Instead, the issue presented is a political question best left to the legislative and executive branch of government. As such, we affirm the circuit court's dismissal.

         Background

         W.K., a student in a Palm Beach County school, filed a complaint seeking declaratory relief based upon the assertion that, since 2010, the School Board had "falsified" its class-size counts to conceal violating article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution. In the complaint, W.K. sought: (1) a declaration that the School Board's student-teacher count was unconstitutional; (2) to enjoin the School Board from using a student-teacher count that did not comply with the Class-Size Amendment; (3) to require a re-count of all elementary schools in the county; and (4) to require the School Board to provide sufficient teachers to bring all elementary classes into compliance with the Class-Size Amendment.

         The School Board moved to dismiss, arguing the Class-Size Amendment was not self-executing and did not confer a private cause of action. The court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss; however, a transcript of the hearing was not provided. After the hearing, the court issued a written order granting the motion to dismiss for three stated reasons. First, the court found W.K. did not have a legal right to pursue a private cause of action against the School Board because the plain language of the Class-Size Amendment did not provide for private causes of action. Second, the court found W.K. failed to sufficiently plead a claim challenging section 1002.13, Florida Statutes. Third, the court found W.K. did not have a legal right to pursue "district or county wide relief."

         The court's order dismissed the complaint without prejudice and allowed W.K. twenty days to file an amended complaint. W.K. declined to amend and, instead, filed a notice of appeal. We subsequently relinquished jurisdiction and the court issued a final order dismissing the complaint with prejudice, noting that the record showed W.K. had failed to file an amended complaint.

          Analysis

         Our constitution establishes that each of the state's 67 counties constitute a school district, and that each school district is to be governed by a school board. Art. IX, § 4, Fla. Const. Further, it is the function of the school board to "operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district." Id. In other words, the school board is vested with exclusive authority over the free public schools within its district, subject only to "such infringement . . . expressly contemplated . . . by the Florida Constitution." Sch. Bd. of Palm Beach Cty. v. Fla. Charter Educ. Found., Inc., 213 So.3d 356, 360 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).

         In 2002, the Class-Size Amendment "add[ed] both a maximum class size requirement and an obligation on the legislature to fund the class size requirement to article IX, section 1, of the Florida Constitution." Fla. Educ. Ass'n v. Fla. Dept. of State, 48 So.3d ...


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