|November 16, 2011|
Previously published on November 14, 2011
The California Court of Appeal has held that a school district failed to comply with the requirements of Proposition 39 because the facilities it offered a charter school were not reasonably equivalent to the facilities that the district would have provided to the charter school students if they had attended a public school within the district. (Bullis Charter School v. Los Altos School District (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 6 Dist., October 27, 2011).)
Bullis Charter School (“Charter School”) is a public charter school that serves kindergarten through eighth grade that operated within the Los Altos School District (“District”). The District made an offer of facilities that the Charter School claimed was deficient because it (1) failed to offer any seventh grade facilities, (2) omitted significant space at the five schools which were used in the comparison analysis, (3) included in its offer a multi-purpose room that the Charter School had built and owned, (4) charged the Charter School for the use of that multi-purpose room, and (5) imposed conditions on the offer. The Charter School asserted that the District offered just a little more than one-half of the size of the District’s other elementary school sites.
The District selected five elementary schools to serve as a comparison group to determine the facilities it would offer the Charter School. The Charter School claimed the District excluded over fifty percent of the exterior square footage of the five schools when calculating the outdoor space at the schools. The District explained that the excluded space constituted “unusable areas” such as landscaped areas, sloped areas, walkways, and other outdoor areas.
The Charter School filed suit alleging that the District violated Proposition 39 and the Charter Schools Act because it failed to offer and provide the Charter School with facilities that were reasonably equivalent to the District’s other schools. The trial court found in favor of District. The appellate court ruled in favor of the Charter School.
Proposition 39, amending the 1992 Charter Schools Act, requires a school district to provide a charter school within the school district’s jurisdiction with facilities if charter school students were attending other public schools within the district. The Court of Appeal concluded the District’s offer of facilities did not comply with the Proposition 39 requirements because it failed to provide reasonably equivalent facilities.
The Court of Appeal found the District impermissibly excluded over one million square feet of non-classroom space from the comparison schools. If the District had considered the total size of the comparison group, its offer to the Charter School would have contained thirty-five percent greater acreage. California Code of Regulations, Title 5, section 11969.3, which implements Proposition 39, specifically requires a school district to provide charter schools non-teaching station space that is commensurate with the non-teaching station space at comparison schools. The District argued that when it compared non-classroom facilities it only needed to consider the areas that are common to each of the comparison schools. The Court rejected this argument finding that when determining the amount of non-teaching station space, a school district must look objectively at all non-teaching station space at each school in the comparison group.
The Court concluded non-teaching station space includes all space other than teaching station space and specialized classrooms and the term is not limited by the four examples given within the regulation. As a result, the Court concluded the Charter School’s site is significantly smaller than any of the five school sites in the comparison group because it is only about seventy-four percent of the size of the other sites.
Furthermore, the District overstated the facilities offered to the Charter School by attributing one hundred percent of a soccer field to the Charter School, even though the field was to be shared with another school and only available for use by the Charter School forty percent of the time. The District further erred when it designated that a multi-purpose room had been supplied by the District when in fact the room was built and owned by the Charter School. Finally, the District erred when it used an arbitrary “standard size” for certain facilities such as libraries in the comparison schools instead of the actual size of such facilities because this resulted in an understatement of the appropriate size of the corresponding facilities that the District must offer to the Charter School.
What This Means To You
Proposition 39 requires districts to provide charter schools with reasonably equivalent facilities, including all non-teaching station space. Districts should ensure they are providing a complete and accurate report of the comparison and charter schools. Although mathematical exactitude is not required, a district’s Proposition 39 facilities offer must present a good faith attempt to identify available facilities, including teaching stations, specialized classroom space, and non-teaching station space, in order to determine reasonably equivalent facilities to be offered to the charter school.