Sunday, October 14, 2012

Prop 39 Co-location Ruling by Court of Appeals: CHARTER SCHOOL NOT ENTITLED TO CHOOOSE ITS LOCATION + smf’s 2¢

Court Says LAUSD Offer of Facilities at Belmont H.S. Was Adequate

By a MetNews Staff Writer, Metropolitan News-Enterprise |

Friday, October 12, 2012  ::  The Los Angeles Unified School District did not violate the charter schools initiative by offering to locate a charter school in adjoining classrooms at Belmont High School, contrary to the wishes of the charter school’s directors, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled.

While officials of Los Angeles International Charter High School preferred to be located at Franklin High School, Justice Richard Aldrich wrote for Div. Three, nothing in Proposition 39 requires the school district to accommodate that desire.

The initiative—adopted in 1992 and officially titled the Charter Schools Act—generally requires that school districts make facilities available to charter schools so that all public school students, whether in traditional or charter schools, attend school in substantially equivalent physical surroundings. LAICHS, founded in 2005, is located in the Hermon area between Highland Park and Eagle Rock, not far from Franklin H.S. 

The school presently has a lease through 2020, but has expressed concern about meeting its rent, Aldrich explained. It requested facilities assistance from LAUSD under Proposition 39 for school year 2010-11, but said it did not wish to move from the area where it is now situated.

Petition for Mandate

After LAUSD concluded it could not assist the school, LAICHS filed a petition for writ of mandate and request for money damages. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted relief in the form of an order requiring the district to “make an offer of facilities to [LAICHS] for the 2010-2011 school year sufficient to accommodate all of [LAICHS’] 157 in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools in the district.” 

The district then offered to locate the students in eight adjoining classrooms at Belmont. The LAICHS then returned to court, arguing that the district did not comply with the writ because the evidence did not support the decision to locate the school at Belmont.

Following a hearing, Judge Ann I. Jones ruled that the district’s offer to locate the school at Belmont complied with the charter schools legislation and with the writ, which she ordered discharged.

‘Uncontroverted’ Evidence

In concluding the judge did not err, Aldrich agreed that there was “uncontroverted” evidence the school could not be accommodated at Franklin, as it wished, and that Belmont was the best option in the northeast area because of the availability of adjacent classrooms, access to shared facilities, and the amount of money the district was putting into upgrades at the campus.

By contrast, the justice noted, placing the school at Franklin would have required spreading the students out and/or shifting Franklin students and teachers and altering schedules in mid-year. 

The “essence” of the charter school’s argument, Aldrich elaborated, was that LAUSD “abused its discretion by not offering facilities at Franklin High School, the school most of LAICHS’ in-district students would attend were they not in a charter school.” But the act, he noted, only requires that facilities be shared “fairly” and located reasonably near to the school’s desired location.

In concluding that the Belmont offer met that standard, Aldrich wrote:

“Belmont is located in Local District 4, just as Franklin High School is.  Belmont lies only three miles outside the geographic area identified by LAICHS in its facilities application.  Belmont is closer to the geographic area LAICHS desired than Wilson High School, another comparison school, and Marshall High School, one of the schools LAICHS named as an alternative.  Meanwhile, all of the high schools in the comparison group, or in Local Districts 4 and 5 near LAICHS’ requested area, were operating at or above capacity. Only Belmont met all of the Proposition 39 factors.”

In addition, he said, given the extent of the potential disruption of school life at Franklin, the district would actually be giving the charter school favorable, rather than equal, treatment if it acceded to its wishes.

Attorneys on appeal were Gregory V. Moser, Kendra J. Hall and John C. Lemmo of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch for the plaintiff and David R. Holmquist, Mark Fall, and Nathan A. Reierson of LAUSD and Gregory G. Luke, Beverly Grossman Palmer and Byron F. Kahr of Strumwasser & Woocher for the district. 

2cents smf full disclosure:  I went out of my way as a community member, Neighborhood Council Education chairperson,  supporter of public education and Bond Oversight Committee member to locate and arrange for Los Angeles International Charter High School’s (LAICHS) current location in  a then vacant Christian school campus in Hermon. I supported their cause; I helped sponsor their fundraising,

  • I find LAICHS’ directors efforts to relocate – to find a cheaper location at the expense of the taxpayers and school district - an egregious breech of faith with our community.
  • I spoke at the Board of Education to oppose LAICHS’s charter being revoked when their directors had a financial hiccup - because I believed the school was a community asset.

No good deeds go unpunished.

I find LAICHS continuing attempt to secure a Prop 39 co-location – free rent - and instance upon co-locating on their own terms – a personal affront.

And hopefully the ruling of the court sets precedent on charter operator’s abuse of co-location provisions in Prop 39.

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