Justices Rule for Parents of Special Ed
The Supreme Court made it easier for parents of
special education students to get reimbursement for private school
tuition. In this case the Forest Grove School District,
outside of Portland, Ore., noticed that the student,
known as T.A, was having problems in high school but suspected marijuana use was
the cause and refused to give him special education services. Toward the end of
his junior year, T.A.'s parents pulled him out of public school and sent him to
a private residential academy.
The parents then sued the school district to
recover the $65,000 they spent on private tuition. The school district argued
that the parents stepped over the line and lost the ability to seek
reimbursement when they transferred him without first giving public special
education a try.
Attorney David Salmons, who represented T.A.'s
family, says the history of the litigation shows that the district had not done
its job. T.A.'s parents had raised concerns about their son before they pulled
him out of school, and a school psychologist questioned whether he might have
attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
"The hearing officer concluded that any further
notice to the school district would have served no purpose," Salmons says,
"because the school district was applying the wrong legal standard and would
have denied the child services in all circumstances.
Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens
noted that schools have an affirmative obligation to "identify, locate and
evaluate all children with disabilities." He said it would be wrong to reward
the school district for refusing to find a child eligible for special
Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the dissent, written by Justice David Souter,
which said Congress envisioned private tuition payments only for students who
already had been receiving special education services in public schools. For a
more complete analysis of the case go to wrightslaw
Justices Rule Strip Search of Students
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Arizona
middle school officials acted illegally when they searched a 13-year-old
student's underwear while she was wearing them for prescription and
The justices voted 8-1 that Safford Middle School
officials violated the girl's Fourth Amendment rights when they forced her to
shake out her underwear. The school had the school nurse and school secretary
have the student strip to her underwear and then pull her underwear away from
her body and shake it. However, they said the officials couldn't be held
Savana Redding, now in college, was an eighth-grader
at Safford, in eastern Arizona, when a classmate accused her of providing some
prescription ibuprofen. The school, which bans prescription and over-the-counter
drugs without advance permission, called Redding in for questioning. She denied
the accusation and allowed her backpack to be searched. Officials found nothing,
but they ordered Redding to take off her clothes and then went a step further,
ordering her to shake out her underwear.
No pills were found.
The court found that a "reasonable" search of the
body of an adolescent would require some reason to believe the search would be
fruitful or that the contraband was dangerous.
"In sum, what was missing from the suspected facts
that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the
power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was
carrying pills in her underwear," Justice David Souter wrote in the majority
opinion. "We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to
finding the search reasonable."
Souter wrote that the court did not intend to cast
doubts on the motives of the school officials, believing that their aim was to
protect the students. Therefore, the justices ruled that school officials cannot
be held liable in a lawsuit over the search. They said a lower court would have
to decide on the liability of Stafford United School District No. 1.
Suburban Monroe schools' reserve funds under
from theDemocrat and Chronicle
McDermott ? Staff writer ? May 16, 2009
Outside of their regular operating budgets, Monroe
County's suburban school districts have more than $200 million in savings
accounts they've socked away for a rainy day.
In the Fairport school district, these "reserve
funds" top $34 million equivalent to 34 percent of the proposed operating budget
for 2009-10. Rush-Henrietta has reserves equivalent to one-quarter of next
year's proposed $100 million budget. And in Webster, schools have set aside more
than $22 million in their rainy-day funds, equivalent to 17 percent of next
year's budget proposal.
The county average for reserve funds is around 17
percent as numerous schools have cut staff and programs in order to balance next
year's budgets. Having too much money isn't an issue for the City School
District, which is trying to deal with a $50 million budget
Some voters, who will head to the polls Tuesday to
weigh in on more than $1.3 billion in school spending countywide, are calling
for schools to be more upfront about why they need so much banked money, what
they use it for and why it can't just be rolled into the operating budget to
keep taxes down.
"I think districts could do a better job of
involving the community in making some decisions in terms of what's the right
balance for reserve funds," said Robert Herloski of Webster. Reserve funds are
used to save money for expected upcoming repairs and equipment replacements, pay
settlements in lawsuits, pay out accident claims and cover other liabilities
like unemployment payments or retiree benefits.
Attention has heightened on these savings accounts
since late last year, when the state Comptroller's Office reported hundreds of
schools across the state had a total of more than $400 million unnecessarily
locked in reserves set up to pay retirees for unused sick, vacation and other
leave time. The comptroller said those funds could be better used for property
tax relief .
"We're in a fiscal crisis," said Comptroller Thomas
DiNapoli. "Every dime counts and $407 million counts an awful lot, especially
when all levels of government are trying to bring property taxes under control."
Churchville-Chili and Spencerport schools were
faulted last month for holding more money in those retiree accrued leave
reserves than the Comptroller's Office would like.
But keeping property taxes down is exactly why
school systems keep money in all their reserves, school officials say. For
example, saving for upcoming building repairs means less borrowing and fewer
interest costs, and paying out unemployment and workers' compensation claims
from reserve funds allows schools to self-insure and avoid costly
"Reserve funds help us with our financial planning
for the future," said Michael Crumb, deputy superintendent of the Spencerport
district. Reserve funds allowed his district to pursue a $3.8 million building
project at no extra cost to taxpayers.
The money schools put in reserve funds is usually
money left over at the end of the year that was budgeted but not spent. Lou
Alaimo, school business official in Greece, said schools have money left over
because good financial planning includes accounting for fluctuations in costs
over the upcoming year and making conservative estimates. Some of the excess
funds are generated by higher-than-anticipated revenues, others by
Boards of education get to decide how to use the
Not all states allow reserve funds, and those that
do like New York tightly restrict what the money can be used
for, said John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business
Here, schools can save for long-term capital
repairs and bus purchases, and can set aside reserve money to self-insure for
workers' compensation, unemployment insurance and for other long-term potential
Reserves "help protect us against unexpected
expenditures," said Alaimo. "Our goal with reserve funds is to stabilize
property taxes and avoid having to go out to taxpayers with a 12 percent
increase if there's an unforeseen expense."
Money can also be held back to help cover
reimbursements districts might have to make if property owners prevail in
lawsuits over tax assessments. In the early 2000s, the Webster schools repaid
more than $6 million to Xerox Corp. following a tax assessment
If not for a dedicated reserve fund, the district
would have had to borrow that money and pay interest on the loans or ask
taxpayers to approve a substantial tax increase, said Jim Fischera, the
district's chief financial officer.
About $50 million of this year's unspent funds will
be held back as "undesignated fund balance," money districts can keep by state
law for use in unforeseen events. Districts may keep up to 4 percent of their
total budget as undesignated fund balance.
"If you have a major equipment failure such as a
boiler or an emergency roof repair, that can be very costly," said Steve Ayers,
assistant superintendent for business in the Hilton Central School
Countywide, schools are asking for an average tax
levy increase of one-tenth of one percent. Statewide, the proposed tax levy
increase is about 2 percent, the lowest in six years. School officials said they
know financial times are tough.
"We made a commitment early on not to pass the pain
of the state's budget problems on to our taxpayers," said Julia VanOrman, Greece
Board of Education president.
Districts locally used a cumulative $21 million in
money they didn't spend last year to help keep next year's tax levy
Schools could have used more, but Alaimo said that
would be risky.
The danger in spending reserve funds and fund
balances to balance your overall budget is that such money is a one-shot deal,
"What happens in years two and three if you do
that?" he said. "If you were to liquidate your reserves, you'd be at risk in
future years" when you still have liabilities but no money in
Although a critic of the way school districts
inform the public about reserve funds and fund balances, Herloski said he
strongly believes keeping such funds is a prudent fiscal move.
"Reserves are a good and necessary long-term
planning tool," he said. "I just think districts could do a better job of
involving community in making some decisions in terms of what's the right
balance and how should they be funded."