Thursday, October 3, 2002
High Court to Review Rulings on State’s Obligation to Reimburse Schools for Complying With Mandates
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review a pair of rulings requiring the state to reimburse school districts for the costs of complying with certain statutes.
Justices at yesterday’s weekly conference voted unanimously to hear arguments in +San Diego Unified School District v. Commission on State Mandates,+ 99 Cal.App.4th 1270, decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One July 3, and Department of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates, 100 Cal.App.4th 243, decided by the Third District July 17.
Appellate panels in both cases overruled the Commission on State Mandates, which held in one case that the laws in question did not “mandate[ ] a new program or higher level of service” on school districts, within the meaning of Proposition 4, and in another case that they did.
The statutes in the two cases were unrelated.
Proposition 4, a 1979 initiative sponsored by the late conservative activist Paul Gann, requires that the state fund any new mandate on local government, subject to specific exceptions—for example when the mandate is imposed by federal law. It also establishes a procedure by which local governments may obtain determinations as to whether a new law creates such a mandate.
If the commission determines that an unfunded mandate has been created, the state must reimburse local governments for their compliance costs. If the state does not fund the mandate prospectively, it is suspended.
In the San Diego case, the appellate panel affirmed San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn’s order that the state reimburse all costs incurred by the districts in complying with state laws establishing hearing procedures be followed in expelling students.
The mandates, the district said, arose from:
•Education Code Sec. 48915(b), which requires expulsion of any student who possesses a firearm at school or at a school activity;
•Sec. 48915(c), which permits a school district to expel a student for theft, vandalism, possession of tobacco, “habitual” use of profanity, possession of drug paraphernalia, disrupting classes, using or selling drugs, or sexual harassment;
•Sec. 48918, which requires notice, an evidentiary hearing, and preparation of an administrative record in expulsion cases; and
•Various laws in effect between 1975 and 1994 covering expulsions.
The commission ruled in 1998 that reimbursement of costs incurred in mandatory expulsion cases was required to the extent that the notice requirements were imposed by the state but not by the U.S. Constitution. As to Sec. 48915(c) expulsions, the commission said, the fact that expulsion is discretionary precludes any reimbursement requirement.
Quinn, however, sided with the district, which argued that all costs of mandatory expulsions, and all costs of discretionary expulsions not federally mandated, are reimbursable. The district reasoned that since there was no federal mandate to expel any student, all costs in Sec. 48915(b) cases were state-mandated, and that even though Sec. 48915(c) expulsions are discretionary, compliance with the Legislature’s procedural requirements is not.
Justice Gilbert Nares, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.
In the “zero-tolerance” cases, the justice reasoned, the state is requiring districts to expel students—and to incur the related costs—even though the district would not have been required to expel them before the law was enacted. And in the discretionary cases, he said, the state was leaving the district with no alternative other than to follow the mandatory hearing procedures once it determined that expulsion was appropriate.
By requiring that such expulsions be carried out in a specific manner, including procedures not mandated by federal law, the Legislature mandated a “higher level of service,” the jurist said.
In the Third District case, the panel directed the commission to reconsider its ruling that legislation requiring certain school site councils and public advisory committees to comply with open government laws created a reimbursable mandate.
The panel agreed with the commission that the legislation required a “new program” or “higher level of service,” but said the commission failed to consider whether districts had a “reasonable alternative” to compliance. The court declined, however, to go as far as the state, which argued that there was no mandate as a matter of law because the districts were not required to maintain the committees.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company