August 27, 1999
by Terry Francke
California First Amendment Coalition
The San Diego Unified School District is arguing that the State Controller has wrongfully disallowed more than $1.5 million in the district's claims for reimbursement for the costs of complying with a state mandate, namely the Brown Act's requirement to post school board agendas with "brief general descriptions" of what will be done at the meeting.
The issue arises in the district's "incorrect reduction claim," used by local agencies to challenge the controller's reduction of funds paid under a mandated cost reimbursement claim. The district's challenge will be reviewed in a hearing before the Commission on State Mandates at 9:30 a.m. September 30 in room 437 of the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The claim revives the controversy of nearly 10 years ago in which some local agencies, and school districts in particular, were found to be submitting very high mandated cost recovery claims to the controller, supposedly reflecting actual costs of preparing an ageda for public posting under the Brown Act, in amounts sufficient to trigger a suspension of the mandate. For much of 1990, the requirement to post agendas was legally in abeyance because the cost claims submitted in connection with that mandate exceeded the amount appropriated for such reimbursements.
To avoid a recurrence, the act was amended in a bill by then Assembly Member Lloyd Connelly with language stressing the imperative that the open meeting requirements continue in force without interruption. As directed by this legislation, the controller adopted new "claiming instructions" for the Brown Act calculated to discourage inflated claims.
As part of these guidelines the controller in effect put a ceiling on how much time could be claimed for the preparation of each agenda page: 30-45 minutes was the maximum allowed for that part of the work needed to insure that the agenda complied with the "brief general description" mandate.
But now, pursuant to the San Diego district's challenge, the staff of the Commission on State Mandates has concluded that the controller's 30-45 minute time budget is "arbitrary, and is not representative of larger districts and therefore, resulted in an incorrect reduction of SDUSD's reimbursement claim."
Larger districts, says the staff report, take an average of 413 minutes almost seven hours to prepare a single page. Also, the staff concludes that the controller improperly limited San Diego school administrators to only three of the five divisional employees who hammer out the agenda, and did not allow compensation "for legal review of litigation, personnel and contractual issues included on the agendas."
The staff thus recommends that the commission ask the controller to restore the claimed reimbursements disallowed, namely $1,529,185 for fiscal years 1986/87 through 1996/96.