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Decision No. 16,741

Appeal of CONEY ISLAND PREPARATORY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 16,741

(April 13, 2015)

Shearman & Sterling LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Alan S. Goudiss and Mark R. Sobin, Esqs., of counsel

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Elizabeth Edmonds, Esq., of counsel

BERLIN, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner, Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School (“petitioner”), challenges the New York City Department of Education’s (“respondent” or “DOE”) failure to offer it a co-location site in a public school building or space in a privately owned or publicly owned facility at respondent’s expense and at no cost to petitioner, as required by Education Law §2853(3)(e).  The appeal must be sustained.

Petitioner is a charter school currently authorized to serve students in kindergarten through grade twelve.  According to the record, it was initially chartered by the Board of Regents in December 2008 for a five year term to serve students in grades five through nine.  In December 2013, petitioner’s charter was subsequently renewed through June 2018; apparently at that time, petitioner was authorized to serve kindergarten through grade twelve.  During the 2014-2015 school year, petitioner operated at three different sites in Community School District (“CSD”) 21, serving kindergarten through grade one at one site, grades five through eight at another site, and grades nine and ten at a third site.[1]  Petitioner intends to continue to expand each school year until it serves students through grade twelve in the 2016-2017 school year.

By letter dated September 15, 2014, respondent was notified of petitioner’s anticipated need for space for its high school expansion to serve grades eleven and twelve beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.[2]  By letter dated February 11, 2015, petitioner amended its original request to include a request for co-located space for grade ten, which it offered commencing with the 2014-2015 school year.[3]  By letter dated February 17, 2015, respondent acknowledged petitioner’s September 15, 2014 request and February 11, 2015 amended request, but stated that it would “not be extending an offer of space at this time.”  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner asserts that respondent failed to offer any facilities, in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e).  As relief, petitioner seeks an order directing respondent to pay rental assistance in accordance with Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

Respondent requests that the appeal be dismissed in its entirety.

Preliminarily, I note that this appeal was 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 respondent failed to respond to its request for co-location space for grades ten, eleven and twelve 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 require additional space due to an expansion of grade level 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 February 17, 2015 response to petitioner’s requests for co-location space for grades ten, eleven and twelve, respondent indicated that it would “not be extending an offer of space at this time.”  However, respondent was required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer petitioner a co-location site in a public school building or space in a privately owned or other publicly owned facility at the expense of the city school district and at no expense to petitioner.  As it did not do either, respondent 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.

The record in this case indicates that petitioner was initially approved by its charter entity to serve students in grades five through nine and did so up through the 2013-2014 school year.  In the 2014-2015 school year, petitioner expanded to serve students in the tenth grade, for which it required additional space, and made a request for co-located space from DOE.  In the 2015-2016 school year, petitioner is planning to expand to serve students in the eleventh and twelfth grades in accordance with the provisions of its charter and has made a request for such space from DOE as well.  Therefore, on the record before me, I find that petitioner has established that it requires additional space due to an expansion of grade level in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years that was approved by its charter entity, albeit in a charter action that occurred prior to the enactment of Education Law §2853(3)(e).  There being no language in the statute limiting its applicability to expansions of grade level approved by a charter entity on or after the effective date of Education Law §2853(3)(e), I find that petitioner has met all the statutory criteria and is entitled either to a co-location or to an offer of private or other publicly owned space.

Accordingly, having failed to make such an offer, DOE must, pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5), pay petitioner in each remaining year of the current charter term, commencing with the 2014-2015 school year, rental assistance based on student enrollment in any newly added grade level(s) for which petitioner has been approved to provide instruction and for which it has made a request for co-location space – here, grades ten, eleven and twelve (see Appeal of Brilla, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,735).  Specifically, with respect to an existing charter school whose expansion of grade level is approved by its charter entity 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 grade level expansion ... 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 ... (ii) for a charter school which expands its grade level, pursuant to this article, before [October 1, 2016], the positive difference of the charter school’s enrollment in the current school year minus the charter school’s enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of the expansion” (Education Law §2853[3][e][5]).

Therefore, pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5), DOE must pay petitioner, for newly added grades commencing with the 2014-2015 school year and, for each remaining year of the current 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 the charter school’s basic tuition for the current school year and the positive difference of the charter school’s enrollment in the current school year minus the charter school’s enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of the expansion.

In this instance, with respect to its tenth grade, petitioner also has not been afforded the opportunity to 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) and respondent must afford the charter school an opportunity to do so.  With respect to petitioner’s expansion to include grades eleven and twelve in the 2015-2016 school year, petitioner has not been offered the opportunity to select an alternative privately owned site and respondent must afford the charter school an opportunity to do so.  Petitioner must present respondent with evidence of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site so that respondent 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 respondent from offering petitioner co-location space in the future.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) in accordance with this decision and pay petitioner an amount attributable to the grade level expansion that is the lesser of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately owned site selected by petitioner or 20 percent of the product of petitioner’s basic tuition for the current school year and the positive difference of the charter school’s enrollment in the current school charter minus the high school’s enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of the expansion.

END OF FILE

 

 

[1] According to the record, petitioner’s high school grades are located in privately owned space.

 

 

[2] Pursuant to §276.6 of the Commissioner’s regulations, I have taken administrative notice of the records pertaining to the school on file with the State Education Department.  I note that, in petitioner’s September 15, 2014 letter attached to the pleadings herein, petitioner states that the school is located in CSD 30.  However, according to the documents on file with the Department, as well as the pleadings and other papers herein, petitioner is located in CSD 21.

 

 

[3] I note that petitioner’s amended request for co-location space, adding a request for space for the 2014-2015 school year, was submitted after the commencement of the school year. However, DOE did not raise any objection, such as laches, and the issue is not before me.