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SB481: New Pandemic Legislation for School Districts

As the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 continues to force school districts to change procedures and modify operations, the Pennsylvania legislature passed emergency legislation signed into law by Governor Wolf and designed to answer some sticky questions and provide more relief to constituents.

Not too long ago, Act 13, or Senate Bill 751, was passed, which, among other things, provided that school districts were granted the right to renegotiate transportation contracts in order to ensure contracted personnel and fixed costs are maintained. This newest emergency legislation, Senate Bill 841 (SB841), expands the Act 13 right to renegotiate contracts to all service contracts. Specifically, SB841 grants school districts the right to renegotiate any service contract to ensure that contracted personnel and fixed costs are maintained. If renegotiated, in order to continue being paid, the contractors will be required to submit weekly documentation to the school district showing that its complement levels remain at or above what it had on March 13, 2020.

SB841 provides that “taxing districts” are granted the discretion to extend up to two types of relief: 1) offer the discounted rate to property owners through August 31, 2020 and 2) waive any penalty or late fee if the property tax is paid in full by December 31, 2020. Neither option is required to be extended. “Taxing district” is defined specifically to include cities of any class, counties of any class, boroughs, towns, or townships of any class, and incorporated towns. This definition excludes school districts; as such, school districts are not permitted to provide the same relief to taxpayers.

Lastly, SB841 provides the ability for “political subdivisions” to conduct a completely digital or electronic meeting. However, this part of the law does not apply to school districts. Even with this exclusion, we believe that school districts already have the right to hold completely virtual board meetings, in order to conduct business, provided that the board continues to abide by the Sunshine Act, temporarily suspends the requirement that a quorum of the board be physically present, and indicates that such suspension is due to the emergent nature of COVID-19. School districts that have already planned their April and May meetings should be updating their websites and newspapers to provide proper notice.

The attorneys in Stock and Leader’s School Law Group continue to monitor both federal and state laws and regulations that take shape in these times.  We are here for you and stand ready to answer your questions and unravel complex, new issues that only now present themselves during these unprecedented times.

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