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Decision No. 16,777

Appeal of FAMILY LIFE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 16,777

(June 23, 2015)

Cohen Schneider & O’Neill LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Susan R. Briggs, Esq., of counsel

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Kate F. McMahon, Esq., of counsel

BERLIN, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner, Family Life Academy Charter Schools (“petitioner”), challenges the New York City Department of Education’s (“respondent” or “DOE”) failure to offer a co-location site in a public school building 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).  The appeal must be sustained in part.

Petitioner is an education corporation currently authorized to operate three charter schools, including Family Life Academy Charter School II (“FLACS II” or “school”).  FLACS II is authorized to serve students in kindergarten through grade five in Community School District (“CSD”) 7; it commenced instruction in the 2012-2013 school year and served students in kindergarten and first grade.  A grade level was added each year until, in the 2014-2015 school year, FLACS II expanded to serve students in grade three.[1]  FLACS II will continue to expand each year during its initial charter term until it serves students in kindergarten through grade five, which is anticipated to occur in the 2016-2017 school year.

By letter dated January 21, 2015, DOE was notified of FLACS II’s need for co-location space for the 2014-2015 school year.[2]  By letter dated April 28, 2015, DOE acknowledged the January 21, 2015 request for co-location space but stated that it would “not be extending offers of space at this time.”  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to offer FLACS II any facilities, in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e), and that such failure 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 FLACS II for the 2014-2015 school year and continuing thereafter.

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 DOE failed to respond to FLACS II’s request 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 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 April 28, 2015 response to FLACS II’s request for co-location space, respondent indicated that it would “not be extending offers of space at this time.”  However, respondent was required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer the school 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 FLACS II was approved by its charter entity to serve students in kindergarten through grade five, and that the school served students in kindergarten through grade two in the 2013-2014 school year.  In the 2014-2015 school year, FLACS II expanded to serve students in grade three, for which it required additional space.  Therefore, on the record before me, I find that petitioner has established that FLACS II requires additional space due to an expansion of grade level in the 2014-2015 school year 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 FLACS II 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 (see Appeal of Global Community Charter School, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,694; Appeal of Great Oaks Charter School, 54 id., Decision No. 16,692).

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 FLACS II’s initial charter term, commencing with the 2014-2015 school year, rental assistance based on student enrollment in any newly added grade level(s) for which FLACS II has been approved to provide instruction.  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 FLACS II’s initial 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 FLACS II’s basic tuition for the current school year and the positive difference of FLACS II’s enrollment in the current school year minus its enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of the expansion.

In this instance, petitioner also has not been afforded the opportunity to 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), and respondent must afford petitioner an opportunity to do so.

Nothing herein should be construed to prevent DOE from offering petitioner co-location space for FLACS II in the future.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

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 FLACS II’s basic tuition for the current school year and the positive difference of FLACS II’s enrollment in the current school year minus its enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of the expansion.

END OF FILE

 

[1] The school currently serves its kindergarten through second grade in private space. According to the school’s chief executive officer, in the 2014-2015 school year, it began serving students in third grade and absorbed the third grade expansion into the private space where it serves its kindergarten through grade two, thereby incurring rental costs and fees.

 

[2] I note that FLACS II’s request for co-location space 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.