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Decision No. 16,883

Appeal of MOTT HAVEN ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 16,883

(March 9, 2016)

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Kevin P. Quinn, Esq., of counsel

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Thomas B. Roberts, Esq., of counsel

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioner, Mott Haven Academy Charter School (“the school”), challenges the New York City Department of Education’s (“DOE” or “respondent”) failure to offer it 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 a charter school authorized by the Chancellor of the City School District of the City of New York (“Chancellor”) to serve students in kindergarten through grade eight and is currently located in private space in Community School District (“CSD”) 7.  Petitioner’s initial charter was issued in January 2008 for a five-year term.  It was extended in 2013 for a two year term and again in 2015 for a term up through and including June 30, 2020.[1]

Petitioner has been serving students in kindergarten through grade five since the 2012-2013 school year.  In January 2016, the Chancellor approved petitioner’s request to revise its charter to add grades six through eight.[2]  Petitioner will expand to serve grade six in the 2017-2018 school year and will add a grade each year until it serves kindergarten through grade eight in the 2019-2020 school year.

By letter to DOE dated November 16, 2015, petitioner requested co-location in a public school building pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e) for its expansion to sixth, seventh and eighth grades to commence in the 2017-2018 school year.  By letter dated January 15, 2015,[3] DOE acknowledged petitioner’s November 2015 request for co-located space, but stated that “[w]e will not be extending an offer of space at this time.”  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to offer any facilities in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e).  As relief, it seeks an order directing DOE to pay rental assistance in accordance with Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) beginning with the 2017-2018 school year in the amount of the lesser of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately-owned site selected by petitioner or 20 percent of the product of its basic tuition for the current school year and its enrollment for the current school year.  It also seeks an order directing DOE to afford it an opportunity to select an alternative privately-owned or publicly-owned site near its current site in CSD 7.

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 offer it a co-location site in a public school building or space in a privately-owned or other publicly-owned facility at no cost to petitioner, in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e).  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 approved by their charter entity for the 2014-2015 school year or thereafter, and request co-location in a public school building, shall be provided access to facilities for those grades newly provided.  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]).

Here, petitioner made a written request for co-location space in a public school building on November 16, 2015.  Specifically, petitioner requested space for its expansion to sixth through eighth grades beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.  The record indicates that in its response, DOE stated that it would “not be extending an offer of space at this time.”  However, in the event that DOE did not offer petitioner a co-location site in a public school building, it was nevertheless required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer petitioner 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 indicated in its response only that it would not be extending an offer of space.  As it did not offer petitioner 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.

The record in this case indicates that petitioner currently serves students in kindergarten through grade five.  The record further indicates that in January 2016, petitioner’s request to expand to serve students in grade six through eight was approved by its charter entity.  Petitioner will begin serving students in sixth grade in the 2017-2018 school year, will add seventh grade in the 2018-2019 school year and eighth grade in the 2019-2020 school year, an expansion for which it requires additional space.  Therefore, on the record before me, I find that petitioner has established that it requires additional space due to an expansion of grade level, commencing in the 2017-2018 school year with its sixth grade, that was approved by its charter entity in January 2016.  Petitioner has thus 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 Education Law §2853[3][e])).

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 charter term, commencing in the 2017-2018 school year, rental assistance based on student enrollment in any newly-added grade level(s) for which petitioner 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],[4] 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, contrary to petitioner’s assertion, DOE must pay petitioner, for newly-added grades commencing with the 2017-2018 school year and for each remaining year of the current charter term, an amount attributable to its expansion that is equal to 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 then-current school year (i.e. the 2017-2018 school year) and the positive difference of the charter school’s enrollment in the then-current school year (i.e. the 2017-2018 school year) minus the charter school’s enrollment in the 2016-2017 school year, the school year prior to the first year of expansion.  As noted above, commencing with the 2017-2018 school year, DOE is obligated to pay for the facilities for the charter school’s grade-level expansion in each year of the current charter term (Education Law §2853[3][e][5]).

In this instance, 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).

Nothing herein should be construed to prevent respondent from offering petitioner co-location space 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, for newly added grades commencing with the 2017-2018 school year and for each remaining year of the charter term, 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 then-current school year and the positive difference of the charter school’s enrollment in the then-current school year minus the charter school’s enrollment in the school year prior to the first year of expansion.

END OF FILE

 

[1] 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.

 

[2] According to records pertaining to the school on file with the State Education Department, in February 2016, the Regents approved petitioner’s request to revise its charter to add grades six through eight.

 

[3] Although dated January 15, 2015, DOE’s letter was sent in response to petitioner’s November 2015 request and should have been dated January 15, 2016.

 

[4] Although the statute is ambiguous and does not specifically address the circumstances presented in this case, the clear intent of the statute must be that the formula would also apply where, as here, the charter school’s expansion of grade level was approved by its charter entity before October 1, 2016, even though the actual expansion does not occur until after October 1, 2016.  Otherwise, a charter school in this situation would be entitled to the actual rental cost of an alternative privately-owned site without limitation, while another charter school whose grade expansion commenced in the 2016-2017 school year would receive the lesser of such amount or 20 percent of the product of the charter school’s basic tuition and the charter school’s enrollment.  The legislative could not have intended such an irrational result.