Ripley Residents File Lawsuit Against Tuition Agreement

RIPLEY-A group of Ripley residents are asking the state Education Department to nullify a tuitioning vote allowing Ripley students to attend Chautauqua Lake Central School.

Ripley residents approved the tuitioning of seventh- through 12th-graders by a 282-262 vote in February. A group of Ripley residents, led by Wanda Bentley, have filed a suit with the state Education Department asking for the vote to be nullified and a new election held. The petition cites a number of complaints implicating the districts’ board members in alleged violations of election law that the community group says changed the results of the Feb. 5 vote.

Among the alleged violations brought forth in the petition were: the imposition of inappropriate and unevenly applied requirements and procedures in establishing residency for voting purposes; conducting a false canvass of the ballots, and voiding eligible votes with the intention of altering the election outcome; the use of Ripley’s public and official message board to campaign for the tuitioning agreement with fraudulent and inaccurate information and using the board to campaign within view of a polling place; and allowing unqualified voters to falsely register and vote in the election, as well as the concealment of the votes from the public.

While the filing states the board engaged in a false canvass of ballots and voided eligible votes with the intention of altering the election’s result, no evidence of such behavior was provided in any of the affidavits.

Robert Bentley, Ripley board president, said he was served Tuesday and, in talking with the district’s attorneys, was advised to refrain from comment.

“We’re meeting our obligations to answer this, and we have no doubt we’ll prevail,” said Bentley. “I will say, in all honesty, we’re very happy that we can answer these questions, and get this behind us. And we will.”

The petition stated that the outcome of the election, which was passed by a 282-262 vote, would have been different if the petitioners had not been given false information and/or had their votes voided by the district.

Included in the petition were photos of the school’s message board displaying the question, “Will tuitioning 7-12 students decrease my taxes?” and answer “Yes.” The petition said board members Robert Bentley, Nancy Rowe, Ted Rickenbrode, Frederick Krause and superintendent Karen Krause had not researched potential tax savings prior to Jan. 17. The district’s budget, approved by voters in May, included a 1.7 percent tax decrease.

An irregularity in the timing of the petition is that it was filed outside of the 30-day statute of limitations, a delay for which the petition claims it has good cause. It said the petitioners did not come forth as aggrieved until June 5 because, prior to that date, the petitioners were not numerous enough to overturn the election results.

Wanda Bentley obtained affidavits from 23 aggrieved voters. Jason Bentley, one of the aggrieved voters, said his vote wasn’t counted when it should have been counted. Of the 22 remaining aggrieved voters, four said they were misinformed by the board and want to change their votes while 17 said they weren’t informed of the vote at all. The board placed legal notices in the Dunkirk OBSERVER and The Post-Journal while several stories about the suit were run in both newspapers prior to the vote. Discussions of the tuitioning agreement began in earnest in August 2012.

Additional information presented to NYSED with the petition is listed to be in the form of board meeting minutes and the petitioners’ affidavits.

Wanda Bentley was unable to be reached by phone on Wednesday.