Saturday, November 24, 2012


…or so spins the Charter School Association – which is still suing LAUSD!

By Kimberly Beltran,  SI&A Cabinet Report |

Monday, November 19, 2012  ::  In the 12 years since a state law forcing districts to share facilities with charter schools took effect there are still turf wars but anecdotal evidence suggests the disputes are fewer and more often than not, beneficial relationships have instead replaced acrimony.

Proposition 39, passed in 2000 and enacted the following year, requires a district to provide facilities for charter schools operating within it. Among other conditions, the law requires the facilities to be offered at no cost, although a district may charge a charter school a pro rata share of facilities costs paid from its unrestricted general fund monies.

“It’s getting better. We have seen a shift toward districts and charters seeing the potential for collaboration,” said Gary Borden, senior vice president for statewide advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association, of which about 70 percent of the state’s more than 1,000 charter schools are members.

Charter schools must formally request use of district facilities on an annual basis – a legal negotiation process that is currently underway statewide for next school year.

Since districts aren’t required to report charter school facilities requests, there’s no statewide data showing how many have been submitted and approved or denied since 2001.

But Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, reported this week that as of the Nov. 1 deadline, it had received about 80 requests – equaling space for 23,000 seats – from charter schools for facilities for the 2013-14 school year. Twenty of those requests (25 percent) are brand new, said José Cole-Gutiérrez, director of the district’s charter school division.

“Every year, we have to find space equivalent to the size of the Pasadena Unified School District,” Cole-Gutiérrez said of housing charter school students. “It is a rigorous and challenging process, but we are committed to honoring our obligations under the law on behalf of students.”

The California Charter School Association doesn’t necessarily agree that LAUSD always stands up to the letter of the Prop. 39 law and is, in fact, embroiled in its second of two lawsuits alleging that the district continues to deny legally compliant facility offers to charter schools. The current claim was filed May 24, 2010 – two years after LAUSD and the CCSA reached a settlement agreement in a 2007 suit over several charter schools that said they were either denied space or given inadequate facilities.

Neither Cole-Gutiérrez nor Borden would comment on the legal wrangling.

“We are pleased with our efforts and the progress we’ve made [with regard to Prop. 39]. We’ve developed a great rapport with our charter school leaders,” said Cole-Gutiérrez. “We are absolutely committed to making sure every child is afforded a quality seat for his or her education.”

The charter school movement was nine years old when Prop. 39 became law but resistance from traditional public education sectors had created an adversarial dynamic that often led to heated debates and accusations that some districts and officials were employing tactics to thwart charters at every turn.

Being told they had to give classrooms and other facilities in their jurisdiction to upstart charters didn’t sit well with some districts; for others, it may have seemed an overwhelming task or a logistical headache.

Whatever the reasons, battles have ensued over school space but less so now than in Prop. 39’s early days.

Different interpretations of the law sometimes do lead to court battles but, said Borden, there are several districts in the state whose Prop. 39 policies should be emulated.

San Diego and Sacramento City unified school districts for example, said Borden, “have taken a step beyond Prop. 39” by instituting policies designed to assist charter schools in securing and maintaining equitable facilities.

Sacramento City superintendent Jonathan Raymond and the school board have approved long-term facilities arrangements for all local charter schools on district-held property, Borden said. And, in turn, charter schools are helping cover the maintenance costs of those facilities through joint use agreements with the district.  Such arrangements provide stability for charter school operators and eliminate the annual burden of the Prop. 39 process on both the charter school and the school district.

And just this month in the general election, San Diego passed a first-of-its-kind $2.8 billion school bond that earmarked “an equitable, pro rata share for charter schools” amounting to $350 million for charter facilities in the district.

“Such arrangements demonstrate what is possible in the state's major urban school districts when school district staff and charter school operators work together toward common solutions,” said Borden. “It takes it out of the adversarial realm and puts it into more of a collaborative partnership, creating a win-win for everyone,” said Borden.

While the California Department of Education doesn’t track facilities applications between charters and districts, regulations require charter schools to report – and the CDE to post – on an annual basis the per-square-foot charge each school pays for facilities costs.

That list, located on the CDE website, contains data reported by just 129 charter schools in 2009-10. Of those, 72 pay a per-square foot charge averaging $2.90. The remaining schools pay either a flat fee or a percentage of revenue.

The CCSA the last few years has conducted a survey of its members to try to assess their facility needs.

Now, said Borden, the association is attempting to gather much more useful data from its members and has launched what it is calling its Charter School Facilities Initiative, a comprehensive analysis of the issues and challenges facing California's charter schools and their access to affordable, adequate facilities.

“This year we’re upping the request a bit and going deeper in terms of the level of information we’re requesting,” he said. “We’re asking about what folks have, what’s working for them, what’s not working for them and where they’d like to go if they had a choice.”

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