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Configuration of School Districts

Information about circumstances that have created exceptions to the typical configuration of elementary school, high school, or unified school districts.

A school district typically is configured as an elementary school district (kindergarten through grade 8), a high school district (grades 9 through 12), or a unified school district (kindergarten through grade twelve). Furthermore, elementary school districts are components of either a high school district or a unified school district (Education Code [EC] Section 35515) with the boundaries of the high school district or the unified school district coextensive with the boundaries of its component districts (EC Section 35540). However, legislation, State Board of Education (SBE) approved waivers of the Education Code, or other circumstances have created the exceptions described below:

Common governing board (or common administration) districts

Common administration districts exist through statute and are not created by the California Department of Education (CDE) or the SBE. EC Section 35110 et seq. allows for the creation of a common administration district through resolution of the governing board of a high school district and one of its component elementary school districts if the certificated employees of the two districts have the same employee bargaining unit. Thus “common administration” distinction allows the two districts to be treated as a single district for most purposes (particularly for budget and personnel purposes). However, the districts still are treated as separate entities for other purposes (i.e., computing state apportionments, allocating local property tax revenue, holding real property, and responsibility for bonded indebtedness). Common administration district pairs require three county-district-school codes: one for each of the separate entities and one for the common administration district.

There currently are five common administration districts in the state:

  • Arena Union Elementary/Point Arena Joint Union High (Mendocino County). Note: The SBE, at its July 2004 meeting, approved a waiver submitted by these districts. The approved waiver allowed the districts to become common administration despite not meeting all of the conditions specified in EC Section 35110 et seq.
  • Santa Cruz City Schools (Santa Cruz County)
  • Petaluma City Schools (Sonoma County)
  • Santa Rosa City Schools (Sonoma County)
  • Modesto City Schools (Stanislaus County)

There are other district pairs in the state that share a governing board and/or an administration. However, if these districts do not meet the EC Section 35110 et seq. conditions, they are not legally considered common administration districts.

Elementary districts that are not components

There are two elementary school districts in the state (both in Napa County) that are not components of a unified or high school district: Howell Mountain Elementary School District (ESD) and Pope Valley Union ESD. Secondary students residing in these districts may attend high school in any high school district or unified school district in the county or in another county (EC Section 48031).

School districts with special circumstances

Desert Center Unified School District (USD) (Riverside County): Pursuant to a permanent waiver approved by the SBE at its September 2018 meeting, this unified district is not required to provide educational services to high school students.

Hermosa Beach City ESD (Los Angeles County): Pursuant to special legislation (Chapter 24, Statutes of 1992 [Assembly Bill 325]), high school students residing within this district may attend either Manhattan Beach USD or Redondo Beach USD.

Kings River Union ESD (Tulare County): A portion of Kings River Union ESD is within the boundaries of the Dinuba USD—high school students residing within that portion are residents of the Dinuba USD. The remaining portion of Kings River Union ESD is within the boundaries of the Kingsburg Joint Union High School District. This “split” occurred in 1931 upon formation of the Kings River Union ESD (and predated the enactment of EC Section 35540). The SBE formally approved the “split” in 1997 with its concurrent actions to approve (1) formation of the Dinuba USD and (2) waiver of EC Section 35540 as it relates to that unification.

Sunol Glen USD (Alameda County): Pursuant to special legislation (Chapter 106, Statutes of 1987 [Senate Bill 1639]), this unified school district is not required to provide educational services to the high school students residing within its boundaries “until it has sufficient students to provide a comprehensive program for kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, inclusive.”

Grade level changes

High school districts with junior high programs: EC Section 37060 allows a high school district to establish a junior high school (grades seven and eight), or a system of junior high schools, to provide the junior high educational program for some or all of its component districts.

Contractual arrangements: Some school districts enter into formal or informal agreements with other school districts to provide the educational programs for one or more grade levels. These arrangements typically involve a small elementary school district allowing another school district to provide the educational services for its middle school or junior high school students.

Questions:   School District Organization | sdo@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-2470
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, April 19, 2022
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