Friday, April 10, 2015

3 Stories: STATE SUPREME COURT RULING CLARIFIES HOW SPACE FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS MUST BE DETERMINED, but LAUSD may not be turning over more real estate to charters just yet

….and please define “clarifies”! 

State Supreme Court: LAUSD must recalculate charter classroom needs

by Annie Gilbertson, KPCC |

69138 full

April 09, 11:54 AM  ::  The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Los Angeles Unified School District is inappropriately calculating space for charter schools, but the district may not be turning over more space to charters just yet.

The ruling is the latest development in a long-standing feud over how much space charters are granted on stand-alone campuses or those shared with a district school.

In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 39 requiring school districts to provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities to charter students, but the charter advocates disputed the method for determining the size of their designated spaces and charged the district was short-changing their students.

"For more than a decade, the [State Board of Education's] regulations and the underlying mandate of Proposition 39 have been the subject of considerable litigation," wrote Justice Goodwin Liu.

LAUSD used district-wide class size averages to determine the number of classrooms a charter school would need. The Supreme Court ordered the district to instead base the need on class size averages for the neighboring district schools where the charter is competing for students.

"This is because in large school districts the conditions in schools may vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood," Justice Liu wrote.

When the California Charter Schools Association sued LAUSD, it alleged the district was not considering all available space in divvying-up campuses and classrooms, leaving the charters cramped in limited areas.

In 2012, a trial court sided with the charter schools, but LAUSD won on appeal. The California Supreme Court then granted a review in 2013.

David Huff, the attorney representing LAUSD, argued the district's calculations were equitable. He provided the court examples where charter class sizes mirrored that of neighboring schools. If district schools end up with more space, it's because they offer programs outside K-12, including preschool and adult education, Huff said.

Using rooms for those programs in the calculation would tip the scales in favor of charters, he argued.

"It would have resulted in a two-tiered structure of a public school system with charter school students  simply getting more classroom space than a district school kids. L.A. Unified thought that was unfair, and that’s why this challenge was taken all the way to the Supreme Court,” Huff said after the ruling.

The court agreed with LAUSD that classrooms provided for adult education or preschool can be excluded from calculating K-12 class-size average, but it declined to clarify if other school spaces, such as supply rooms, should be used.

So while the ruling clarifies how space for charters must be calculated, final numbers from the districts will determine whether charters get any extra real estate or lose ground.

Still, the California Charter Schools Association declared victory in the case.

The group said in a release the court reaffirmed the association's position that the district's methodology was "not legal or fair, and potentially denied classrooms to charter public school students."

Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the association, stated: "We're greatly encouraged that the California Supreme Court validated the notion that public school facilities should be shared fairly with all kids."​



By Maura Dolan, LA Times |

Students at a downtown Los Angeles charter school

Students at a downtown Los Angeles charter school. The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Los Angeles Unified may have shortchanged charter schools in calculating how much space they should receive. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

April 9, 2015 | 5:58 pm | Reporting from San Francisco  ::  The California Supreme Court unanimously decided Thursday that the Los Angeles school district's method for allocating space to charter schools may shortchange them classrooms.

In a decision written by Justice Goodwin Liu, the state’s highest court said the L.A. Unified School District’s formula may “undercount” the number of classrooms that charter schools are entitled to and should be replaced with a different method.

But whether the new method would lead to expansions for L.A. charter schools was unclear. The guidelines laid down by the court contained plenty of room for interpretation. Charter advocates predicted that at least some schools would get additional space. An attorney for LAUSD said no new charter school classrooms would be required.

The case was based on Proposition 39, which voters passed in 2000. It requires school districts to give charters facilities that are reasonably equivalent to those provided to students in traditional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded and independently run. Most are nonunion.

The court said L.A. Unified violated a state regulation by allocating space to charters based on the number of classrooms staffed by teachers across the district. The law requires other space — including rooms used for study halls or libraries — to be part of the equation, the court said.

“Counting only those classrooms staffed by an assigned teacher would effectively impute to charter schools the same staffing decisions made by the District,” Liu wrote. “But there is no reason to think a charter school would necessarily use classrooms in the same way that the District does.”

David M. Huff, who represented LAUSD, said the district already shares libraries and other non-teaching rooms with on-site charters. Although the district must use a different formula in allotting space, “the math works out the same,” he said.

He said the district was pleased that the court rejected an attempt by charters to include space for preschool and adult education in the formula.

“The school district views this as a big win,” Huff said.

John Lemmo, a lawyer for a national alliance of charter schools, questioned how LAUSD could view the ruling positively.

“It means charter schools get more classrooms,” said Lemmo, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Phillipa Altmann, senior litigation counsel for the California Charter Schools Assn., which challenged LAUSD, said predicting the impact was difficult because charter schools do not have access to all the district’s information.

In allotting space, the district is supposed to look at similar schools nearby. But the court ruling did not clearly define what could be counted as a classroom for comparison purposes.

“We think in a lot of situations it will [lead to more space for charters] but it will depend on the comparison schools,” she said.

  • Times staff writer Howard Blume in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


California Charter Schools Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District

The Recorder |

Cal.Sup.Ct.; S208611 [ SEE FULL TEXT OPINION ]

April 9, 2015  ::   The California Supreme Court reversed a decision of the court of appeal. The court held that a school district erred in relying on district-wide “norming” ratios in calculating the number of classrooms to provide to charter schools requesting facilities.

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) sued the Los Angeles Unified School District, claiming the district failed to comply with Proposition 39, codified at Educ. Code §47614, which requires school districts to share their facilities with charter schools so that charter school students have access to facilities “reasonably equivalent” to those available to other public school students. The parties reached a settlement agreement that required the district to make facilities offers to CCSA member-schools that complied with Prop 39 and its implementing regulations.

The CCSA later sued the district for breaching the settlement agreement, arguing that the district did not make facilities offers pursuant to Prop 39.

The trial court ordered the district to make Prop 39-compliant facilities offers pursuant to the settlement agreement to all charter schools that submitted legally sufficient facilities requests.

The CCSA later moved to enforce that order, arguing that the district had failed to comply with Cal. Code Regs, tit. 5, §11969.3(b)(1), which sets out a formula for determining how many classrooms must be allocated to a charter school that requests facilities. Section 11969.3(b)(1) requires school districts to count the number of classrooms in certain “comparison group schools” and to divide the average daily attendance (ADA) of students at those schools by the number of classrooms. The resulting ADA/classroom ratio dictates how many classrooms the district must provide.

The CCSA argued that the district, in allocating classrooms to charter schools, impermissibly used what it called “norming ratios.” Those ratios purported to establish a uniform student/teacher ratio throughout the district in a given grade level.

The district argued that its use of these district-wide ratios, rather than ratios developed from counting classrooms in comparison group schools, satisfied the regulation and provided reasonably equivalent facilities to charter schools. The district further argued that the classrooms that needed to be counted were only those that were, in the words of the applicable regulation, “provided to” K-12 students, and not classrooms that were dedicated to other uses, such as preschool or adult education. The CCSA disagreed, arguing that all classrooms needed to be counted.

The trial court found that the district’s use of norming ratios to determine the number of classrooms to provide to charter schools violated §11969.3(b)(1).

The court of appeal reversed, holding that the district’s use of norming ratios did not violate §11969.3(b)(1).

The California Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal ruling, holding that the district’s use of district-wide norming ratios, rather than a count of classrooms in comparison group schools, violated §11969.3(b)(1).

Section 11969.3(a) provides that “[t]he standard for determining whether facilities are sufficient to accommodate charter school students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending public schools of the school district providing facilities shall be a comparison group of district-operated schools with similar grade levels.” The regulation defines comparison group schools as “the school district-operated schools with similar grade levels that serve students living in the high school attendance area… in which the largest number of students of the charter school reside” or, if a district’s students do not attend high school based on attendance areas, the “three schools in the school district with similar grade levels that the largest number of students of the charter school would otherwise attend.”

The court found that the district, in arguing that its use of norming ratios satisfied the regulation, misunderstood the role of comparison group schools in the regulatory scheme. Section 11969.9, which sets forth the procedures that school districts must follow in making facilities offers, requires that “the district shall… provide the charter school a list and description of the comparison group schools used in developing its preliminary proposal” in response to a charter school’s facilities request. This provision makes clear that the comparison group method cannot be used merely as a retrospective standard for determining reasonable equivalence. Rather, it must be used by school districts in developing their facilities offers to charter schools. The regulations prescribe a specific, transparent method for deriving the ADA/classroom ratio to be applied in allocating classrooms to charter schools, thereby allowing charter schools and the public to readily verify whether a district has complied with the regulation.

The court opined that the district’s alternative would require a charter school either simply to accept the district’s assurance that its norming ratios produce reasonable equivalence in facilities between the charter school and its comparison group schools, or to compel the district through litigation to demonstrate reasonable equivalence. The court doubted this was what the State Board of Education had in mind when it adopted §11969.3(a).

Indeed, the Department of Education and the Board explicitly rejected a district-wide approach akin to the district’s norming ratios in favor of the comparison group method. The department reasoned that in large school districts, using a district-wide approach would result in a standard that could be significantly different than the neighborhood schools the charter school students would otherwise attend “because in large school districts the conditions in schools may vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood.” The regulation that was adopted thus requires a more localized approach.

Turning to the question of which classrooms needed to be included in deriving the ADA/classroom ratio used to allocate classrooms to charter schools, the court rejected the CCSA’s contention that the district was required to count any classrooms other than those actually provided to noncharter K-12 public school students. Classrooms used for preschool or adult education, or by other charter schools, were not, the court found, “provided to” a district’s K-12 students. Prop 39 sought to level the playing field for charter and noncharter public schools with respect to facilities for K-12 education. The court found no indication that it was intended to affect or account for the practice of school districts allowing their facilities to be used for educational or community programs other than their own K-12 educational program.

Accordingly, the court concluded, in responding to a charter school’s request for classroom space, the district was required to follow a three-step process. First, it needed to identify comparison group schools as §11969.3(a) prescribes. Second, it had to count the number of classrooms in the comparison group schools and then adjust that number to reflect those classrooms actually “provided to” students in those schools. Finally, it had to use the resulting number as the denominator in the ADA/classroom ratio for allocating classrooms to charter schools based on their projected ADA.

Liu, J., joined by Cantil-Sakauye C.J., and Werdegar, Chin, Corrigan, Cuéllar, and Kruger, JJ.

CCSA Issues Statement on California Supreme Court Ruling in CCSA v. LAUSD (Prop 39) |

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