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Decision No. 17,735

Appeal of DEMOCRACY PREP ENDURANCE CHARTER SCHOOL from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding school utilization.

Decision No. 17,735

(August 20, 2019)

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Jeffrey P. Metzler, Esq., of counsel

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Christopher Ferreira, Esq., of counsel

TAHOE., Deputy Counsel for Legal Affairs.--Petitioner, Democracy Prep Endurance 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 other publicly-owned facility at DOE’s expense and at no cost to the school, as required by Education Law §2853(3)(e).  The appeal must be sustained.

Petitioner is authorized by the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (“SUNY”) to serve students in kindergarten through grade 12.[1]  Its initial charter was issued in December 2010.  Petitioner currently serves students in grades 6 through 12.[2]  In March 2017, the Board of Regents (“Regents”) - petitioner’s charter entity at the time — renewed petitioner’s charter for a term up through and including June 30, 2022, and revised it to authorize petitioner to expand to serve students in kindergarten through grade 4.  According to petitioner, it will expand to serve students in kindergarten and grade 1 in the 2020-2021 school year, grade 2 in the 2021-2022 school year, grade 3 in the 2022-2023 school year, and grade 4 in the 2023-2024 school year.

On June 14, 2019, a written request for co-location was submitted for petitioner’s kindergarten through grade 4, pursuant to Education Law §2853(3)(e), using DOE’s online “Portal.”[3]  By letter dated June 17, 2019, DOE acknowledged the request for space, but stated that it would “not be extending an offer of space at this time.”  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner asserts that DOE failed to provide space, in violation of Education Law §2853(3)(e).  As relief, it seeks an order directing DOE to pay rental assistance for its kindergarten through grade 4 in accordance with Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

Preliminarily, I must address a procedural matter.  Respondent has filed a late answer with a request for its acceptance.  An answer in a charter school co-location appeal must be served within ten business days of service of the petition (8 NYCRR §276.11[e][1]).  If an answer is not served and filed in accordance with the provisions of the Commissioner’s regulations, the statements contained in the petition will be deemed to be true statements, and a decision will be rendered thereon by the Commissioner (8 NYCRR §276.11[c][2]).  A late answer may be considered in the discretion of the Commissioner upon consideration of the proffered reason for the delay (8 NYCRR §276.11[e][1]).

The petition herein was served upon respondent on July 16, 2019.  Respondent, therefore, was required to serve its answer by July 30, 2019, but did not do so until August 5, 2019.  Respondent’s counsel explains that “due to an inadvertent error,” it was unaware that a petition had been filed in this appeal.  I do not accept the law office failure as good cause for the untimely submission.  Under these circumstances, I decline to permit the late filing (Appeal of A.B., 58 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,572; Appeal of Murphy, 57 id., Decision No 17,234).  Accordingly, I have not considered respondent’s late answer and the factual allegations set forth in the petition will be deemed to be true statements.  Consequently, I also have not considered petitioner’s reply to respondent’s late answer.

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 P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884).

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 for its kindergarten through grade 4, at no cost to the school, 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.  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 responded to the June 14, 2019 co-location request but did not offer petitioner a co-location site in a public school building or space in a privately-owned or other publicly-owned facility, at no cost to the school.  However, in response to the request, DOE was required by Education Law §2853(3)(e)(1) to offer petitioner space 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 the school, 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.

The record indicates that, in March 2017, petitioner was authorized by its charter entity at that time to expand to serve students in kindergarten through grade 4.  According to petitioner, it will expand to serve students in kindergarten and grade 1 in the 2020-2021 school year, grade 2 in the 2021-2022 school year, grade 3 in the 2022-2023 school year, and grade 4 in the 2023-2024 school year, expansions 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 that was approved by its charter entity for the 2014-2015 school year or thereafter.  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) and petitioner’s request, pay petitioner, commencing with the 2020-2021 school year, and in each remaining year of the school’s 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, rental assistance based on student enrollment in the newly-added kindergarten through grade 4 - the grades requested by petitioner - for which the school has been approved to provide instruction.[4]  Specifically, with respect to an existing charter school whose expansion of grade level is approved by its charter entity, “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 calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

Therefore, DOE must pay petitioner for its newly-added kindergarten and grade 1 commencing in the 2020-2021 school year, grade 2 commencing in the 2021-2022 school year, grade 3 commencing in the 2022-2023 school year, and grade 4 commencing in the 2023-2024 school year, and in each remaining year of the school’s 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, an amount attributable to its expansion to kindergarten through grade 4 that is calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

In this instance, petitioner indicates that it intends to serve its students in private space.  Petitioner must present DOE with evidence of the amount of the actual rental cost of an alternative privately-owned site attributable to the grade-level expansion 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 respondent comply with the requirements of Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5) in accordance with this decision and pay petitioner for its newly-added grades for each remaining year of the current charter term and for 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 grade-level expansion that is calculated in accordance with the formula set forth in Education Law §2853(3)(e)(5).

END OF FILE

 

[1] Pursuant to §276.6 of the Commissioner’s regulations, I have taken administrative notice of the records on file with the New York State Education Department regarding this school.

 

[2] In previous appeals, petitioner was awarded rental assistance from DOE for its expansion to serve students in grades 9 and 10 (Appeal of Democracy Prep Endurance Charter School, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,762) and grades 11 and 12 (Appeal of Democracy Prep Endurance Charter School, 56 id., Decision No. 17,085).

 

[3] Request for Charter School Co-location in DOE Facilities, Item 2(11).

 

[4] 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).