Friday, May 23, 2003
State Does Not Have to Reimburse School Districts for Costs of Compliance With Open Meeting Law—S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The state does not have to reimburse school districts for the added cost of complying with tougher open meeting requirements, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for a unanimous court, said a change in public meeting laws, boosting the advance posting requirement for agendas from 24 hours before meeting time to 72 hours, does not compel a “higher level of service” under Proposition 4.
That initiative dates back to 1979 and was passed to assure that local governments are not stuck facing new state requirements without being given the money to fund the mandates.
The decision overturns rulings of the Third District Court of Appeal and the Commission on State Mandates.
Although the ruling directly affects only Santa Clara County and school districts in Kern and San Diego Counties, it could have implications for a host of community based advisory boards that were set up as part of legislation establishing state-funded programs around the state.
Advisory boards came into being in the 1960s when Congress required that new federal funding programs for neighborhoods include input from community members on how to spend the money. Since then, the state has added its own advisory board requirements on new funding programs.
But state law also requires that government meetings be open to the public, that agendas be posted and that the public be given an opportunity to comment.
The Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Law applies specific requirements to sessions of city and county governments, local school districts, water boards and numerous other local agencies. Courts have found the Brown Act to apply to business improvement district advisory boards and private corporations set up by public agencies, among others.
The nine designated types of school site councils and advisory committees at issue in yesterday’s case came into being under statutes enacted in the 1970s and 1980s to implement a variety of programs, including migrant education, American Indian education, and general program coordination.
The councils and committees were specifically exempted from the Brown Act by a state Education Code section that includes its won 72-hour agenda notice posting requirement and required an opportunity for the public to speak. The Brown Act now also requires 72 hours notice,
George agreed with the state that school districts do not have to participate in the programs or accept the money offered, so that as a matter of law any reasonable open meeting requirement imposed by the state is not a reimbursable state mandate.
The court still has before it another state mandates case, with greater potential fiscal implications, dealing with whether the costs of expulsion hearings under statutes compelling “zero tolerance” for certain types of student misconduct.
Yesterday’s case is Department of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates (Kern High School District), 03 S.O.S. 2551.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company