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October 16, 2003

For More Information, Contact:
Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6384


SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that Ravenswood City School District’s long financial struggle with the State over the reimbursement of special education costs is finally over. Assembly Bill 1350, which sought to reimburse the school district $1.33 million for special education costs incurred in complying with a court order, has been signed into law.

“It took some time—more than two years,” said Simitian, “but we finally got the school district its due. It was a simple reimbursement claim that got caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare. Thankfully, the result is a good one.”

How did Simitian become a one-man collection agency on behalf of a local school district?

In the fall of 2000 and 2001, Ravenswood City School District filed two separate claims with the State Controller’s Office, totaling $1.33 million, for special education costs it had incurred in complying with a Federal court order. Under the Ravenswood Corrective Action Plan (RCAP), the school district was instructed to make certain improvements to its special education programs—the cost of which could be reimbursed with State funds.

Ravenswood complied—making the necessary changes, and submitted a claim for reimbursement of the funds it had spent. But between filing and payment of the claim, the relevant section of the Education Code authorizing payment of such claims was repealed, leaving the State Controller’s Office with no authority to reimburse Ravenswood.

The school district had spent $1.33 million in good faith for good purposes, and the request to be reimbursed by the State had been validated by an independent private auditor. But no one had foreseen this hanging claim in repealing Education Code Section 42243.6(a). Hence, Ravenswood was out $1.33 million—a significant sum in a district with a $36 million annual budget.

The Ravenswood School Board and Superintendent Floyd Gonella went to Simitian. “We needed someone who could make sense of these arcane statutes, and push past the bureaucracy,” said Gonella. “Joe sat down with legislator after legislator to explain why we were entitled to this money. He lobbied the Governor’s office. He really went to bat for us.”
According to Simitian, the explanation is actually quite simple. “Ravenswood submitted a valid claim in a timely fashion when appropriate authorizing language existed. They should be paid,” he said. “Unfortunately,” Simitian added, “the District’s somewhat tumultuous history made the matter that much more confusing. It just took some extra effort to sort out the issues.” 

In fact, the Ravenswood claim had three obstacles to overcome. The first obstacle was the fact that the state law authorizing payment of such claims has been repealed. The second obstacle was the fact that the state law on which Simitian and Ravenswood were relying allowed, but did not actually require, payment of such claims.  And finally, the State budget deficit meant that both the Governor and the Legislature were inclined to avoid spending bills of any sort.

“We’re thankful that Joe took this challenge on,” said Ravenswood School Board President Adam Mitchell. “He knows that $1.33 million is a very big number for us, particularly with respect to our special education budget. We’re making real progress, and these funds will help tremendously.”

AB 1350 allocates federal special education funds, rather than State funds, to pay the Ravenswood claims, and specifically requires that the funds be used for special education purposes.