Education Law Alert by By John R. Yeh OF Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP | http://bit.ly/1KgIvmn
June 25, 2015 :: Proposition 39 (Education Code section 47614), the law requiring school districts to allocate reasonably equivalent facilities to eligible charter schools, continues to generate numerous legal challenges and court rulings. The most recent published case, Westchester Secondary Charter School v. Los Angeles Unified School District, affirms the important principle that school districts must have discretion to weigh the respective interests of both school district and charter school programs in making facilities allocations under Proposition 39.
The Court of Appeal in the Westchester case interpreted the specific provision in Proposition 39 that "[t]he school district shall make reasonable efforts to provide the charter school with facilities near to where the charter school wishes to locate." (Education Code section 47614(b).) The charter school sued when the school district offered a site that was 6½ miles from the charter school's first choice, and over 7 miles from its second choice of campuses. The Court rejected the charter school's argument, stating that "'near' is a flexible concept," and the District met the location preference by offering a site only 2.53 miles from the perimeter of the charter school's preferred location in the City of Westchester.
The Court also rejected the charter school's attempts to second-guess the District's other facilities allocations, including a decision to place a District pilot program, and not the charter school, at the charter school's second choice campus; the decision not to place both the District pilot program and the charter school at the second choice campus; the decision not to eliminate "set-asides" (classrooms used for purposes other than general education) to free up more classrooms; and not placing the charter school at a closed adult education school site.
In reaching its ruling, the Court recognized that school districts must have the discretion to balance the impact on school district programs in meeting their obligations to provide reasonably equivalent facilities to charter school students under Proposition 39. "In sum, the law requires the District to treat charter and noncharter students fairly, but not favor one group over the other," the court stated. The Court's decision in Westchester is an important reminder that traditional public schools and their students also have rights and interests that must be considered during the Proposition 39 facilities allocation process.
John R. Yeh is a partner in Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP and a member of the Education Law Practice Group. He has been practicing law in California since 1991, and specializes in representing and advising school districts in charter school, labor and employment, and litigation matters