THORNTON ACADEMY et al.
REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 21 et al.
Argued: June 12, 2019
Richard A. Spencer, Esq. (orally), Melissa A. Hewey, Esq.,
and David M. Kallin, Esq., Drummond Woodsum, Portland, for
appellants Regional School Unit 21 and the Board of Regional
School Unit 21
W. Schneider Jr., Esq. (orally), Sara Hellstedt, Esq., and
Tara A. Walker, Esq., Bernstein Shur, Portland, for appellees
Thornton Academy et al.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.
Regional School Unit 21 and the Board of Regional School Unit
21 (collectively, RSU 21) appeal from a judgment entered by
the Superior Court (York County, Douglas, J.) on a
complaint filed by Thornton Academy and residents of
Arundel in connection with RSU 21's decision
not to allow Arundel middle school students to attend
Thornton Academy at public expense. RSU 21 contends that the
court misinterpreted 20-A M.R.S. § 1479 (2018) to allow
middle school students who live in Arundel to attend Thornton
Academy at public expense. We affirm the judgment.
On April 6, 2016, Thornton Academy and the Arundel residents
instituted an action against RSU 21 in the Superior Court
after RSU 21 decided that all Arundel public middle school
students must attend the Middle School of the Kennebunks
(MSK) in Kennebunk and that public funds cannot be used for
those students to attend Thornton Academy in Saco. Thornton
Academy and the Arundel residents sought a declaratory
judgment that RSU 21 incorrectly interpreted and applied 20-A
M.R.S. § 1479(3) (A) in making its decision,
see 14 M.R.S. § 5954 (2018), and they sought
review of RSU 21's decision on the same basis pursuant to
M.R. Civ. P. 80B. RSU 21 counterclaimed solely against
Thornton Academy, seeking a declaratory judgment that RSU 21
correctly interpreted section 1479(3)(A).
The court made the following findings of fact based on the
parties' stipulated record. In 2006, the Arundel School
Department (ASD), with referendum approval, entered into a
ten-year contract with Thornton Academy that called for all
Arundel students in grades six through eight to attend
Thornton Academy. After school reorganization legislation was
enacted in 2007, see P.L. 2007, ch. 240, §
XXXX-13 (effective June 7, 2007), the ASD merged with Maine
School Administrative District 71 to form RSU 21, effective
July 1, 2009. MSK is in RSU 21. RSU 21 declined to execute a
new contract with Thornton Academy and, in March of 2016,
three months before the contract expired, RSU 21 adopted a
resolution identifying MSK as the only publicly funded middle
school and denying the students the ability to attend
Thornton Academy at public expense.
The court concluded-as to both the declaratory judgment
claims and the Rule 80B action-that, pursuant to 20-A M.R.S.
§ l479(3)(A), RSU 21 must continue to allow Arundel
middle school students to attend Thornton Academy at public
expense. The court denied RSU 21's subsequent motion to
amend and to reconsider the judgment. See M.R. Civ.
P. 52(b), 59(e). RSU 21 appeals.
RSU 21 challenges the court's interpretation of 20-A
M.R.S. § 1479(3)(A) to require RSU 21 to continue to
allow Arundel middle school students to attend Thornton
Academy at public expense, notwithstanding the expiration of
the contract. We interpret section 1479 de novo as a matter
of law, starting with the plain language of the statute as
the best indicator of the Legislature's intent. See
Wawenock, LLC v. Dep't of Transp., 2018 ME 83,
¶ 7, 187 A.3d 609; Me. Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 37 v.
Pineo, 2010 ME 11, ¶ 16, 988 A.2d 987. Unless the
statute itself suggests a contrary legislative intent, we
give words in a statute their "plain, common, and
ordinary meaning, such as people of common intelligence would
usually ascribe to them." S.D. Warren Co. v. Bd. of
Envtl. Prot, 2005 ME 27, ¶ 15, 868 A.2d 210
(quotation marks omitted). If the plain language is
unambiguous, we interpret the statute according to that
language alone, "unless the result is illogical or
absurd." Wawenock, LLC, 2018 ME 83, ¶ 7,
187 A.3d 609 (quotation marks omitted). If the language is
ambiguous-that is, if it is reasonably susceptible to
multiple interpretations- we will consider other indicia of
the Legislature's intent in enacting it, including its
legislative history. Id. ¶¶ 7, 15.
By constitutional and statutory mandate, every municipality
in Maine must provide for a free public education from
kindergarten through grade twelve for all children whose
parents reside in that municipality. Me. Const, art. VIII,
pt. 1, § 1; 20-A M.R.S. §§ 2, 1451, 1479,
5202(2) (2018); see Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 1 v.
Comm'r, Dep't of Educ, 659 A.2d 854, 857 (Me.
1995). In light of the geographic limitations on and the
financial burdens created by such a requirement, however, the
Legislature has long permitted any school district that has
no school of its own to satisfy the public education
requirement by alternative means-(1) by contracting with a
public school in another school district or a private school
that meets certain requirements (a school privileges
contract), see 20-A M.R.S. §§ 2701-2703,
2951, 5203(3), 5204(3) (2018); R.S. ch. 41, § 105
(1954); R.S. ch. 15, § 62 (1904), or (2) by allowing
parents to choose another district's public school or an
approved private school for their children to attend at
public expense in the absence of a school privileges contract
(school choice), see 20-A M.R.S. §§ 2951,
5203(4), 5204(4) (2018); R.S. ch. 41, § 107 (1954); R.S.
ch. 15, § 63 (1904).
The statute at issue here-20-A M.R.S. § 1479-has
provisions regarding both school privileges contracts and
school choice as applied to ...