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Walnut Valley Unified v. the Superior Court of

January 27, 2011

WALNUT VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT; ROWLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL., REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS124720) James C. Chalfant, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Petition denied.

Defendants and petitioners Walnut Valley Unified School District and the Board of Education of the Walnut Valley Unified School District (collectively, Walnut), seek a writ of mandate directing respondent superior court to vacate its order granting a petition for peremptory writ of mandate and/or prohibition (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1085, 1102) brought by plaintiff and real party in interest Rowland Unified School District (Rowland) and to enter a new order denying Rowland's petition.

The trial court's ruling precluded Walnut from enrolling for the 2010-2011 school year any students residing within Rowland's boundaries pursuant to the District of Choice program. (Ed. Code, § 48300 et seq.)*fn1

This is a dispute between two school districts which are competing for students and for the funding those students would bring to the district in which they are enrolled. The District of Choice program (added by Stats. 1993, ch. 160; form. § 48209 et seq.), authorizes a school district to declare itself a " '[s]chool district of choice' " which accepts incoming students who seek to transfer from a " '[s]chool district of residence.' " (§ 48300.)*fn2

Walnut, which has declared itself a District of Choice, sought to process 590 applications from students who reside in Rowland for the upcoming school year. Rowland objected to the departure of any more of its students, contending it has already met the 10 percent statutory cap on the number of outbound transfers. (§ 48307, subd. (b).)*fn3 Rowland also objected to the transfers on fiscal grounds. (§ 48307, subd. (d).)

We are called upon to construe section 48307, subdivision (b), which enables a school district of residence to limit the number of students transferring out of the district. Thereafter, we address the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's determination the statutory cap has been met in this case.

We conclude the trial court's legal interpretation of the 10 percent statutory cap is correct. (§ 48307, subd. (b).) Further, substantial evidence supports the trial court's factual determination the 10 percent cap on outbound transfers from Rowland had been reached. Therefore, we deny Walnut's petition.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Rowland's petition in the court below.

On February 1, 2010, Rowland filed a petition for a peremptory writ of mandate or prohibition,*fn4 seeking to enjoin Walnut from enrolling any students who reside within Rowland's boundaries for the 2010-2011 school year. Rowland's petition invoked two statutory grounds for limiting outgoing District of Choice transfers.

First, Rowland contended as a school district with an average daily attendance of less than 50,000, it was entitled to limit the total number of pupils transferring out for the duration of the District of Choice program to 10 percent of the average daily attendance for that period. Rowland's average daily attendance for the years 1995 through 2009 was 17,527.60, so that it could limit the maximum number of students transferring out to 1,752.76. Because 2,054 students who resided in Rowland already had transferred out to surrounding school districts of choice, Rowland was entitled to preclude any further outbound transfers under the program. (§ 48307, subd. (b).)

In addition, Rowland contended it was entitled to limit further outbound transfers because the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools (Superintendent) had determined Rowland would not meet the standards and criteria for fiscal stability for the subsequent fiscal year exclusively due to the impact of additional outbound District of Choice transfers. (§ 48307, subd. (d).)

2. Walnut's opposition below.

Walnut disagreed with Rowland's interpretation of the 10 percent cap specified in section 48307, subd. (b). Walnut argued the 10 percent cap had not been reached because 10 percent of Rowland's average daily attendance was not currently enrolled in Walnut.

According to Walnut's calculations, there were currently 742 District of Choice students enrolled in Walnut who originated from Rowland. Rowland's current year average daily attendance was 16,029 and 10 percent thereof is 1,602. Because only 742 Rowland students were currently enrolled in Walnut, Walnut was entitled to enroll an additional 860 students from Rowland. Therefore, Walnut should be able to proceed with the 590 Rowland applications which were pending before it.

Walnut also disputed the fiscal instability argument, contending the standards for limiting outbound student transfers from Rowland on fiscal grounds had not been met.

3. Trial court's grant of Rowland's petition.

On April 15, 2010, the matter came on for hearing. Prior to the hearing, the trial court issued a 10-page tentative ruling. At the conclusion of the hearing on Rowland's petition, the trial court adopted its tentative ruling as the order of the court. The trial court found in favor of Rowland on both grounds, i.e., the 10 percent aggregate cap had been met, and any further transfers of students would impair Rowland's fiscal stability.

a. Trial court's interpretation of the 10 percent statutory cap.

The trial court ruled in pertinent part: "Under the plain meaning of section 48307, there are two circumstances in which a district of residence can limit the number of pupils transferring to a [District of Choice]: (1) a district with less than 50,000 in average daily attendance [i.e. Rowland] may limit the number of transfers to 3% of the district's current year average daily attendance; and (2) such a district may limit to a number which is 10% of the average daily attendance those pupils who transfer during the entire duration of the district of choice program.

"Walnut argues that the language 'for that period' in the phrase '[the district] may limit the maximum number of pupils transferring out for the duration of the program authorized by this article to 10% of the average daily attendance for that period' refers back to 'the current year.' Under Walnut's statutory construction, a qualifying district (1) may limit the number of transfers to 3% of the district's current year average daily attendance, and (2) may limit the number of transfers during the district of choice program to a total of 10%, calculated based on the current year's average daily attendance. Walnut contends that Rowland's interpretation would permit Rowland to count any student who ever transferred from Rowland under the program, whether the student is actively enrolled in another district, has graduated, moved, or enrolled in a private school.

"The plain meaning of section 48307(b) is just as Rowland states. The 10% cap on transfers out of the district of choice means 10% of the average daily attendance for the period of the district of choice program. . . .

"This plain language interpretation also is consistent with rules of construction that a qualifying phrase applies to the word, phrase or clause immediately preceding it unless context or evident meaning require a different construction. [Citation.] The phrase 'that period' appears closest to, and refers back to, 'duration of the program.'

"An interpretation in which 'that period' refers to duration of the program is consistent with the fact that section 48307(b) sets forth two bases on which a district of residence may limit transfers under the program -- one in which the transfers are limited to 3% of the current year estimated daily average attendance and a second in which the maximum number of transfers is 10% of the daily average attendance for a period. The words 'current year' occur with respect to the first basis, while both the phrase 'that period' and the phrase 'the duration of the program' occur in the second ground for limitation.

"The actual numbers involved in section 48307(b) -- 3% as an annual limit and 10% as a top limit -- are consistent with Rowland's interpretation. Walnut's interpretation would mean that there would have to be 10% of Rowland's former students actively enrolled in the district of choice program on the date in question. In order to reach that cap, Rowland probably also would have already reached the 3% cap for any one year. As a practical matter, the 10% cap then would be partly redundant. It is far more likely that section [4]8307(b)'s 10% cap was intended to be an absolute cap on the loss of a residence district's students.

"Walnut relies on a November 3, 2009 letter by Senators Romero and Huff, the joint authors of Senate Bill 680 creating the budget limitation exception to the district of choice program. This letter states that the 10% cap is calculated based on the current year average daily attendance in the district of residence (Rowland) and the total number of transfers currently enrolled in the district of choice (Walnut). These numbers may fluctuate depending on the average daily attendance in the district of residence, and the active number of transfers, in the current year.

"The court cannot resort to legislative history unless the statute is ambiguous. The court does not find an ambiguity in section [48307(b)]. Even if arguendo the statute is ambiguous, the SB 680 letter is not an extrinsic aid to interpretation because it does not state the Legislature's intent, but rather was sent after the amendment was enacted and is a post hoc interpretation by a bill's authors. See Kaufman & Broad Communities, Inc. v. Performance Plastering, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 26, 30. The letter is further not useful because the district of choice program was enacted in 1994 . . . . The language in section 48307(b) is identical to former section 48209.7(b), which was enacted in 1994. Neither Senator Romero nor Senator Huff authored section 48209.7(b).

"Moreover, the authors of SB 680 may have intended the statute to operate in the manner they state, but the statute clearly does not support their intention. . . . In any event, resort to legislative history is unnecessary where a statute has a plain meaning as section 48307 does. [¶] . . . [¶] In sum, section [48307(b)] permits Rowland to cap at 10% the number of students who have ...


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