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Decision No. 16,712

Appeals of ACHIEVEMENT FIRST - BUSHWICK CHARTER SCHOOL from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 16,712

(February 19, 2015)

Cohen Schneider & O’Neill, LLP, attorneys for petitioners, Cliff S. Schneider and Lisa J. Holtzmuller, Esqs., of counsel

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, James M. Dervin, Esq., of counsel

BERLIN, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner, Achievement First – Bushwick Charter School (“petitioner”), challenges the New York City Department of Education’s (“DOE” or “respondent”)[1] failure, in response to two separate requests, to offer it co-location site in a public school building to operate two charter schools or space in a privately owned or publicly owned facility at DOE’s expense and at no cost to petitioner, as required by Education Law §2853(3)(e).  Because the appeals involve common issues of law and fact, they are consolidated for decision.  The appeals must be sustained in part.

Petitioner is an existing education corporation that, in October 2014, was approved by the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, as charter entity, to operate two additional charter schools, Achievement First Charter School 10 (“AF 10”) and Achievement First Charter School 11 (“AF 11”), to serve students in grades kindergarten through eight in Community School District (“CSD”) 16, 17, 19 or 23.  The schools’ charters were deemed approved and issued by the Board of Regents on January 30, 2015 (Education Law §2852[5-a]). AF 10 is scheduled to commence instruction in the 2015-2016 school year.  AF 11 is scheduled to commence instruction in the 2016-2017 school year.

By separate letters dated August 1, 2014, DOE was notified by each school of its need for space in CSD 16, 17, 19 or 23.  By letters dated December 23, 2014, DOE acknowledged each individual August 1, 2014 request for space but stated that it would “not be extending an offer of co-located space in a DOE building in Community School District (CSD) 16, 17, 19 or 23 at this time.”  These appeals ensued.

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to offer AF 10 and AF 11 any facilities, in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e), and that such failure to make an offer of facilities is arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.  As relief, petitioner seeks an order directing DOE to pay rental assistance in accordance with Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) for the 2015-16 school year and thereafter for AF 10 and for the 2016-2017 school year and thereafter for AF 11.

Respondent denies petitioner’s allegations and requests that each appeal be dismissed in its entirety.[2]

Preliminarily, I note that these appeals were commenced pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e), which was added by Part BB of Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2014. Education Law §2853(3)(e)(3) provides that a charter school in the City School District of the City of New York shall have the option of appealing the “city school district’s offer or failure to offer a co-location site through ... an expedited appeal to the commissioner” pursuant to Education Law §310 and the procedures prescribed in Education Law §2853(3)(a-5).  Pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(3), in any such appeal, the standard of review shall be the standard prescribed in Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) §7803.

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of Aversa, 48 Ed Dept Rep 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884; Appeal of P.M., 48 id. 348, Decision No. 15,882).

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to respond to AF 10 and AF 11’s requests for co-location space with an offer of either co-location space in a public school facility or space in another public or private facility at no cost to petitioner.  Education Law §2853(3)(e) provides that in the City School District of the City of New York, charter schools that are approved by their charter entity to first commence instruction for the 2014–2015 school year or thereafter and request co-location in a public school building shall be provided access to facilities.  The statute also requires that, within the later of five months after a charter school’s written request for co-location and 30 days after the charter school’s charter is approved by the charter entity, the city school district shall offer the charter school either a co-location site in a public school building approved by the board of education as provided by law at no cost to the charter school, or space in a privately owned or other publicly owned facility at the expense of the city school district and at no expense to the charter school (Education Law §2853[3][e][1]).

The record indicates that in its December 23, 2014 responses to AF 10 and AF 11’s requests for facilities, DOE indicated that it would “not be extending an offer of co-located space in a DOE building in Community School District (CSD) 16, 17, 19, or 23 at this time.”  However, in the event that DOE did not offer the schools a co-location site in a public school building, it was nevertheless required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer them space in a privately owned or other publicly owned facility at the expense of the city school district and at no expense to petitioner.  Instead, DOE stated only that it would not extend an offer of co-located space.  As it did not offer the schools space in a privately owned or other publicly owned facility at the expense of the city school district and at no expense to petitioner, DOE failed to comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1).

The standard of review in an appeal pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e) is the standard prescribed in CPLR §7803, which lists questions that may be raised in a proceeding brought pursuant to Article 78.  The question set forth in CPLR §7803(1) is whether the body or officer failed to perform a duty enjoined upon it by law.  The question set forth in CPLR §7803(3) is whether a determination was made in violation of lawful procedure, was affected by an error of law or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion, including abuse of discretion as to the measure or mode of penalty or discipline imposed.  Although Education Law §2853(3)(e)(3) does not specify which specific provision of CPLR §7803 applies, I find that under either subdivision (1) or (3), petitioner has carried its burden of establishing the facts and law upon which it seeks relief.

In accordance with Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5), DOE is therefore required to pay rental assistance based on student enrollment in all grades for which AF 10 and AF 11 have been approved to provide instruction during the term of their charters[3] (Appeal of International Charter School of New York, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,691; Appeal of Rosalyn Yalow Charter School, 54 id., Decision No. 16,690).  I note that Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) provides for rental assistance based on current school year enrollment, not the enrollment projections set forth in the charter, for each year of the charter term.  Specifically, with respect to a new charter school whose charter is granted before October 1, 2016, “if the appeal results in a determination in favor of the charter school, the city school district shall pay the charter school an amount attributable to ... the formation of the new charter school that is equal to the lesser of: (A) the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site selected by the charter school or (B) twenty percent of the product of the charter school’s basic tuition for the current school year and (i) for a new charter school that first commences instruction on or after July first, [2014], the charter school’s current year enrollment ...” (Education Law §2853[3][e][5]).

The amounts payable to a charter school in its first year of operation shall be based on the projections of initial-year enrollment set forth in the charter until actual enrollment is reported to the school district by the charter school (see Education Law §2856[1][b]).  Such projections shall be reconciled with the actual enrollment at the end of the school’s first year of operation, and any adjustment shall be made to payments during the school’s second year of operation (see Education Law §2856[1][b]). 

The record in this case indicates that AF 10 will first commence instruction in the 2015–2016 school year with an estimated enrollment of 180 students, and that AF 11 will first commence instruction in the 2016–2017 school year with an estimated enrollment of 180 students.  Accordingly, pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5), DOE must pay petitioner in each year of the respective school’s charter term the lesser of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site selected by petitioner or 20 percent of the product of each school’s basic tuition for the current school year (e.g., the 2015-2016 school year in the first year for AF 10 and the 2016-2017 school year in the first year for AF 11) and each school’s enrollment for the current school year (e.g., the 2015-2016 school year in the first year for AF 10 and the 2016-2017 school year in the first year for AF 11).  As noted above, DOE is obligated to pay for all the grades in a newly-opened charter school in each year of the initial charter term; the amount payable must be based on the charter school’s actual current year enrollment (Appeal of International Charter School of New York, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,691; Appeal of Rosalyn Yalow Charter School, 54 id., Decision No. 16,690).

In this instance, petitioner also has not been afforded the opportunity to select an alternative privately owned site for each school, and respondent must afford it an opportunity to do so.  Petitioner must present DOE with evidence of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site so that DOE can determine whether such rental cost is less than the amount computed pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5)(B).

Nothing herein should be construed to prevent DOE from offering petitioner co-location space for AF 10 and AF 11 in the future.

THE APPEALS ARE SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

IT IS ORDERED that DOE comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) in accordance with this decision and pay petitioner, with respect to AF 10, the lesser of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site selected by petitioner or 20 percent of the product of AF 10’s basic tuition for the 2015-2016 school year and AF 10’s current year enrollment.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that DOE comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) in accordance with this decision and pay petitioner, with respect to AF 11, the lesser of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site selected by petitioner or 20 percent of the product of AF 11’s basic tuition for the 2016-2017 school year and AF 11’s current year enrollment.

END OF FILE

 

 

1] In its answers, respondent refers to itself as the City School District of the City of New York and asserts that it was “improperly sued herein as the New York City Department of Education.”  In this regard, I take administrative notice that respondent’s official website contains a document entitled “Bylaws of the Panel for Educational Policy of the Department of Education of the City School District of the City of New York” (“by-laws”) (see Appeal of Walker, et al., 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,609).  In its preamble, the by-laws state in pertinent part as follows:  “The thirteen member body designated as the Board of Education in section 2590-b of the Education Law shall be known as the Panel for Educational Policy. The Panel for Educational Policy is a part of the governance structure responsible for the City School District of the City of New York, subject to the laws of the State of New York and the regulations of the State Department of Education. Other parts of the structure include the Chancellor, superintendents, community and citywide councils, principals, and school leadership teams. Together this structure shall be designated as the Department of Education of the City of New York” (emphasis supplied).  Accordingly, for purposes of an appeal brought pursuant to Education Law §310 challenging the actions of the City School District of the City of New York, such district shall be referred to as the DOE, as described herein.

 

 

[2] I note that, although respondent generally denies petitioner’s assertions that the appeals are timely, it does not raise timeliness as a defense.  In any event, both appeals were commenced on January 22, 2015, within the time period required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(2).

 

 

[3] According to the record, AF 10 and AF 11 will offer kindergarten through grade seven during their initial charter terms.