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SCHOOL DISTRICT PITTSBURGH v. COMMONWEALTH (07/21/80)

decided: July 21, 1980.

SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH
v.
COMMONWEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, APPELLANT



No.80-1-72 (Appeal of School District of Pittsburgh), No. 80-3-488 (Appeal of Department of Education), Cross-Appeals from Order of Commonwealth Court dated November 28, 1979, at No. 206 C.D. 1979, reversing order of Secretary of Education dated January 12, 1979.

COUNSEL

Robert J. Stefanko, Persifor S. Oliver, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant in No. 80-3-488.

Phillip A. Ayers, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee in No. 80-3-488.

Michael I. Levin, Harrisburg, for amicus curiae.

Edward G. Biester, Jr., Atty. Gen., Donna S. Weldon, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellants in No. 80-1-72.

John Diefenderfer, Newtown, for appellee in No. 80-1-72.

Persifor S. Oliver, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellee Pittsburgh School Dist.

Paul L. Stevens, Newtown, for appellee Pennsbury School Dist.

Roberts, Justice. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Kauffman, J., joins.

Author: Roberts

[ 492 Pa. Page 142]

OPINION OF THE COURT

As a result of a teachers' strike during the 1975-76 school year, appellee School District of Pittsburgh provided its students only 173 of the 180 days of instruction mandated by section 1501 of the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. ยง 15-1501 (1962). At issue on these cross-appeals is whether, under section 2502(d) of the Code, appellant Department of Education must compute appellee district's state basic instructional subsidy as though no strike had occurred and a full 180 days of instruction had been provided. Unlike the Commonwealth Court, we agree with the Department that it may take into account that appellee district provided less than a full 180 days of instruction.

I. The Subsidy Formula

Proper decision here requires careful analysis of the Public School Code's subsidy formula. Section 2502(d) of the Code provides:

"For the school year commencing the first day of July [of 1968] and each school year thereafter, each school district shall be paid by the Commonwealth on account of instruction of the district's pupils an amount to be determined by multiplying the aid ratio times the actual instruction expense per weighted average daily membership or by five hundred fifty dollars ($550), whichever is less, and by the weighted average daily membership for the district. For the school year 1973-1974 and each school year thereafter each school district shall be paid by the Commonwealth on account of instruction of the district's pupils an amount to be determined by multiplying the aid ratio times the actual instruction expense per weighted average daily membership or by seven hundred fifty dollars ($750), whichever is less."

Thus for the school year in question section 2502(d) makes a district's state subsidy the product of three factors: (1) the district's "aid ratio," (2) the district's "weighted average

[ 492 Pa. Page 143]

    daily membership," and (3) the district's "actual instruction expense per weighted average daily membership" or $750, whichever is less.*fn1

The first factor "aid ratio" approximates the market value of property within a district relative to the market value of property in school districts throughout the Commonwealth.*fn2 The greater the district's relative wealth, the lower the aid ratio and, hence, the less the subsidy.

The second factor "weighted average daily membership" (WADM), as its name suggests, is defined as the district's "average daily membership," "weighted" in a manner reflecting the grade levels of district pupils.*fn3 It is agreed that "average daily membership" in a district where no strike and no reduction of instruction occurs is the district's daily enrollment added together over the full 180 day school year, divided by 180 days to obtain an "average." Expressed as a formula, average daily membership where no reduction in the number of days of instruction occurs is as follows:

[ 492 Pa. Page 144]

Average Daily Membership = (Sum of daily enrollments for 180 days of instruction)/180 days

The third factor, the lesser of "actual instruction expense per weighted average daily membership" (AIE/WADM) or $750, reflects the extent of the Legislature's willingness to subsidize district spending per pupil.*fn4 Districts spending less than $750 per pupil (as determined by "weighted average daily membership") will be subsidized according to their actual instruction expenses. Those spending more than $750, however, will be subsidized according to the $750 ceiling.

Stated in terms of a formula, state subsidy is as follows:

[(AIE/ ]

[ WADM) ]

[ ]

Subsidy = (Aid Ratio) X [ or ] X (WADM)

[ ]

[($750), ]

[whichever ]

[ is less ...


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