PAUSD is offering refunds for summer school tuition that it charged parents illegally -- but the method the district has chosen for refunds itself violates state law. The district is keeping the tuition payments unless parents contact PAUSD to request a refund, according to an email sent to parents last week. The law requires, however, that the district immediately reimburse parents for unlawful charges, regardless of whether they write to PAUSD for a refund.
The district's decision to withhold refunds unless parents request them puts the City of Palo Alto in a difficult position. The City acts as PAUSD's "fiscal agent" by collecting summer school tuition and processing refunds. The City now must decide how to respond to the fact that hundreds of parents are owed refunds of illegal fees it collected on behalf of the school district. The large majority of the parents involved are residents of Palo Alto.
The district email, sent by Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak, tells parents that if parents do not explicitly request a refund the district "will retain your payment as a donation." (see Web Link). The school district collected $368,000 in summer school tuition in 2012 (see Web Link).
For background on the district's decision to offer refunds, see Web Link.
The statute, part of the California Education Code, requires that a district that has charged illegal feels must make "reasonable efforts...to ensure full reimbursement to all affected pupils, parents, and guardians." The State Board of Education is scheduled to adopt regulations at its next meeting in July that define "reasonable efforts" as including "sending reimbursement by first class mail to the pupil's last known primary address." (see Web Link). The regulations do not provide for retaining illegal fees as a donation.