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Decision No. 17,291

Appeal of SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS – NYC, on behalf of SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOOL – NYC 3, from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 17,291

(December 20, 2017)

Vanessa Biondo and Robert Dunn, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioner, Success Academy Charter Schools – NYC (“SACS – NYC”), an existing education corporation with authority to operate Success Academy Charter School – NYC 3 (“the school”), challenges the New York City Department of Education’s (“DOE” or “respondent”) failure 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 DOE’s expense and at no cost to petitioner, as required by Education Law §2853(3)(e).  The appeal must be sustained.

According to the parties, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (“SUNY”) approved petitioner’s application to operate the school.  According to petitioner, when the school opens for instruction in the 2018-2019 school year, it will serve students in kindergarten and grade 1 in Community School District (“CSD”) 7, and it plans to expand one grade level in each succeeding school year.

By letter to DOE dated May 26, 2017, petitioner requested space for the school’s kindergarten through grade 4 in a public school building pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e).  In its letter, petitioner indicated that the school would first commence instruction in the 2018-2019 school year serving students in kindergarten and grade 1, that it would add a grade level in each succeeding school year, and that in the 2021-2022 school year, it would serve students in kindergarten through grade 4.  By letter dated July 20, 2017, DOE acknowledged petitioner’s request and stated that it was assessing the availability of space for the school for the 2018-2019 school year.  This appeal ensued on November 22, 2017.

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to offer it any facilities for the school within the statutorily prescribed five month time period 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).[1]

Respondent admits that it has not offered petitioner space for the school and that petitioner is eligible for a finding in its favor.

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 any space for the school.  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 cost to the charter school (Education Law §2853[3][e][1]).

Here, DOE admits that it responded to petitioner’s May 26, 2017 request, but that it has not offered space for the school.  However, in response to petitioner’s request, DOE was required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer petitioner space for the school in a privately-owned or publicly-owned facility at the expense of the city school district and at no cost to petitioner.  As DOE has not offered any facilities at the expense of the city school district and at no cost to petitioner, it 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 kindergarten through grade 4 – the grades for which the school has been approved to provide instruction - during its current charter term and any subsequent renewal term, provided that, in any such renewal term, the charter school serves the grades encompassed by the charter referenced herein[2] (see Appeal of Our World Neighborhood Charter School, 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,065; Appeal of Uncommon New York City Charter School, 56 id., Decision No. 17,010; 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 “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 calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in 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 the school will first commence instruction in the 2018–2019 school year serving students in kindergarten and grade 1 and will expand one grade level in each succeeding school year.  It will serve students in kindergarten through grade 4 in the 2021-2022 school year.  Accordingly, pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5), DOE must pay petitioner for kindergarten through grade 4 in each year of the charter term and any subsequent renewal term, provided that, in any such renewal term, the charter school serves the grades encompassed by the charter referenced herein, an amount attributable to the formation of the new charter school that is calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).  As noted above, DOE is obligated to pay for kindergarten through grade 4 in the newly-opened charter school in each year of the initial charter term and any subsequent renewal term, provided that, in any such renewal term, the charter school serves the grades encompassed by the charter referenced herein; the amount payable must be based on the charter school’s actual current year enrollment (see Appeal of Our World Neighborhood Charter School, 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,065; Appeal of Uncommon New York City Charter School, 56 id., Decision No. 17,010; Appeal of Rosalyn Yalow Charter School, 54 id., Decision No. 16,690).

In this instance, there is no evidence in the record that petitioner has been afforded the opportunity to select an alternative privately-owned site and respondent must afford the charter school 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 in the future.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that DOE comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) in accordance with this decision and pay petitioner an amount attributable to the formation of the new charter school that is calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

END OF FILE

 

[1] Effective July 1, 2017, Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) has been amended to increase the percentage in the rental assistance formula from 20 percent to 30 percent.

 

[2] To be eligible for an apportionment pursuant to Education Law §3602(6-g) where the charter school has prevailed in an appeal to the Commissioner pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e), DOE must document all expenses incurred pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) for each such charter school for the term of the charter indicated in the Commissioner’s decision, including any renewals pursuant to Education Law §2851(4), provided that the charter school serves the grades encompassed by the charter that was the subject of the Commissioner’s decision (see New York State Education Department, Update on Facilities Assistance Guidance for NYC Charter Schools, dated November 3, 2016).