• Important Decision For School Districts Regarding State Mandated Costs
  • March 9, 2011 | Authors: Diana D. Halpenny; Christian M. Keiner
  • Law Firm: Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard A Law Corporation - Sacramento Office
  • Facts
    The California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, issued an important decision regarding State mandated costs. The court held that the State’s practice of annually funding $1,000 for a variety of mandates recognized by the Commission on State Mandates does not comply with the California Constitution that requires the State to provide a “subvention of funds” to pay for those mandates it imposes on school districts. While the court has previously held that this practice was unconstitutional, the court in this decision makes clear that when the state attempts to defer its obligation in this manner, not only is it unconstitutional, but it also triggers the rights of school districts to bring an action in the Sacramento County Superior Court to have the mandates themselves declared unenforceable for one year, under the remedy provided in Government Code section 187612(c).

    The court ruled that providing such “nominal reimbursement” is the functional equivalent of failure to provide funding under that statute. The court stated, “We have affirmed the trial court's grant of declaratory relief that the State violates article XIII B, section 6 and the implementing statutes by requiring a school district to implement a program under a deferred payment practice. And we have held (consistent with the State's current position) that if the State violates these provisions in the future, the School Districts will have a right to obtain relief from a required implementation of the program under section 17612, subdivision (c).”

    The CSBA Legal Alliance was joined in this lawsuit by the San Diego County Office of Education; San Diego Unified School District; Clovis Unified School District; Riverside Unified School District; and San Jose Unified School District. (California School Boards Association v. State of California- Published Opinion filed February 9, 2011 (4th District Court of Appeal)

    Decision
    According to the decision, since 2002 the State has routinely put a mere $1,000 in the annual budget for each of a variety of mandates, equating to approximately $1 per year per district. For the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the Commission on State Mandates determined that 38 mandates are reimbursable, yet the State only funded $38,000. The deferred mandate payments, according to the decision, total nearly $1 billion owed by the State to school districts for obligations the districts have been performing without the constitutionally required subvention of funds. The court found this to be the functional equivalent of a denial of funds, thus triggering the districts’ remedy to go to court and have those mandates declared to be unconstitutional for that budget year. However, the court also ruled that the failure of districts to seek such remedy for those past years does not mean the districts have waived their right to reimbursement that is still owed for years past.

    Some of those mandates cited by the court for which the State provided only $1,000 in funding include: annual parent notification, pupil health screening, criminal background checks, AIDS prevention instruction, immunization records, teacher incentive program, and pupil promotion and retention.

    The court refused to grant the requested remedy sought by CSBA to order the State to pay its debt to the school districts, finding that such a remedy would violate the separation of powers doctrine.

    What This Means To You
    Districts are owed well over $1 billion by the State for mandated costs. That does not include mandates for which test claims have been filed and not yet ruled upon; or test claims that have been approved but for which the parameters and guidelines have not yet been adopted; or claims which were filed but were reduced in an audit and are now the subject of incorrect reduction claims. It also does not include claims that are currently being litigated, such as the increased graduation requirement that imposed an additional science course as a graduation requirement on districts in 1983, and for which the State has not yet reimbursed districts the cost of science teacher salaries. CSBA’s Legal Alliance along with a handful of school districts has brought a number of lawsuits to try and recoup some of those sorely needed dollars for the districts, and has established important legal precedence in the process. It is more important than ever that districts support CSBA’s Legal Alliance. The next step for districts will be to bring an action in the Sacramento Superior Court to have the court declare that those myriad unfunded mandates are suspended for the coming year.