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Lack of enforcement provisions in the current law enables charter schools to skirt it and disregard the limited reasons and procedures for locating outside of their authorizing district.
| Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014

Brian WaltersIn the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 1263, it is vital to address continued misunderstandings and incorrect information about how the bill would have affected charter schools.

First, a word about charter schools. They are public – not private or parochial-religious – schools established via a “charter” submitted to and approved by a public school district with the legal jurisdiction to grant it and provide mandated oversight.

They are required to comply with virtually all the same laws and standards as regular public schools and are legally required to represent the local community’s demographics.

I am personally pro-charter. I attended the formation meetings in support of SCVi, operating in the Santa Clarita Valley within the jurisdiction of the William S. Hart Union High School District.

The Albert Einstein Academy Letters of Arts and Sciences High School, also chartered by the Hart School District, likewise has a valid charter and would have been unaffected by SB 1263.

The bill was designed to protect legally established charters and better serve charters that follow the rules. If approved, the bill would have allowed a charter school to locate outside its authorizing school district during a construction project or with the permission of the host school district. A grandfather clause would have protected charter schools approved prior to April 2013 to ensure continuity for students currently attending those charter schools. The bill contained exemptions for certain specialty charters that have good reasons for operating outside their authorizing districts.

The bill had the endorsement of the California State PTA, the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the San Diego Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Each board member with whom I work takes our oath of office seriously. We are tasked with providing proper oversight to protect educational excellence for students, ensure safe and appropriate facilities, and ensure the responsible and proper use of taxpayer dollars without charging students illegal fees (for things such as school transportation, non-exempt course fees and laptops or other technology) within our respective geographic boundaries for a free public education.

Contrary to false allegations that SB 1263 was a personal attack, the support of the legislation and the filing of the Newhall School District’s lawsuit against the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District and one of its charter schools was the direct result of board members in the Santa Clarita Valley upholding their oaths of office and defending state law against institutions that seek to abuse it.

The state Legislature understood that the issues addressed in SB 1263 were about these matters of law and jurisdiction, not about the merits of charter schools or parental choice. Those are red herrings used by people who want the rest of us to ignore the fact that the law is being violated, because they believe the ends justify the illicit means.

I am pro-charter but not pro-anarchy.

In fact, even as Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1263 due to his disagreement with the structure of its grandfathering provisions, he acknowledged the valid bigger-picture issues raised by the legislation.

“Unfortunately, it appears that some districts and charter schools have gone against the spirit of the law and the exemption has instead become the rule,” the governor wrote in his veto message, in which he also announced he has “assembled a team to examine this situation and come back with solutions that minimize disruption to students and parents.”

So, we may yet hear more from Sacramento on this issue.

This was not about a single school. It was about good statewide policy affecting many schools, as there are dozens of charter schools that would have been impacted, many of them with respect to legitimizing their location. Lack of enforcement provisions in current law enables charter schools to disregard the limited reasons and procedures for placement outside of a district’s geographic boundaries and intentionally violate jurisdictional rights. In a nutshell, the law allows a charter school to operate outside the boundaries of its authorizing district if the school is undergoing construction, or if space is unavailable within the boundaries of the authorizing district.

If SB 1263 had been signed into law, it would not have closed charter schools as some have claimed. At most, it would have caused the sites established outside of the proper jurisdictions to move back to the chartering districts’ geographic areas, where they could legally operate.

Although authorizing school districts have mandatory oversight responsibility over charter schools, many times they have a financial incentive to keep the charter school operating outside of their geographical boundaries. The small and fiscally distressed Acton-Agua Dulce district, for example, has authorized 21 charter schools in recent years.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education has confirmed that the Acton-Agua Dulce district is unable to meet its financial obligations in the current or subsequent fiscal year, and a recent state-ordered solvency study points to the district’s poor financial performance and misuse of charter approvals as some of the reasons the Acton-Agua Dulce district is in danger of being taken over by the state. The district has publicly stated it is using the oversight fees generated by authorizing charter schools to address its financial needs.

There is a growing number of charter schools in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, as well as across the state, attempting to locate outside of their authorizing school districts – abusing the provisions of the current charter school law.

This situation has left litigation as the only recourse, because the abuse of the current exceptions is not being enforced by any legislative body or administrative agency. In addition to the Newhall School District, lawsuits have already been brought by the Los Angeles Unified School District (the biggest charter authorizer in the state), the Pasadena Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District.

Before offending school sites were opened in these jurisdictions, cease-and-desist letters were sent to warn the offending districts and charters not to open illegally outside of their established borders. The letters were disregarded, as was the judge’s warning in the lawsuit prior to opening the offending sites. The judge warned the Acton-Agua Dulce district’s legal counsel and the charter school that if they chose to open the extra-territorial sites, and lost at trial, they could not complain to the court because they willfully and knowingly were putting their charter students at risk of being relocated.

It is unsurprising that this information has not been shared by the Acton-Agua Dulce district or by the charter school, which had its charter petition denied seven times by four different government agencies because of a failure to meet the minimum legal standards. While the lawsuits seek to address individual school district and charter-school violators of the law, SB 1263 could have provided clarity to fix the recent and future abuse by school districts and charter schools statewide while legitimizing otherwise law-abiding districts and charter schools.

The children of our communities deserve the best education possible, whether through traditional public schools or nontraditional charter schools. Regardless, we board members will faithfully discharge our responsibility to ensure those educational opportunities exceed bare-minimum legal standards and are made available through proper, legal channels.

 

Brian Walters is president of the Newhall School District Governing Board. His column reflects his own opinions.

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21 Comments

  1. Deirdre Bingman says:

    On the flip side, why would a governing Board Allow a charter school in their jurisdiction? Seems like the Board has no incentive to allow a school that will siphon of students and funding from them. So, there has to be balance. The fox can’t watch the hen-house. I think there needs to be an appeals process to the Board of Education or other neutral body if a charter is denied within a jurisdiction’s boundaries. Otherwise, there is a conflict of interest.

  2. The charter was denied because it didn’t meet “minimum legal standards.” That’s rich. Please feel free to enlighten us on those specific standards not met. Try not to spin it.

    • It looks like he did say what those specific standards are. He said: “The law allows a charter school to operate outside the boundaries of its authorizing district if the school is undergoing construction, or if space is unavailable within the boundaries of the authorizing district.”

    • I was referring to the original charter petition being denied over and over which had nothing to do with location

    • Don’t remember, but you should find the answers in the news stories on our SCVNews.com website, when it was current news. (Seem to recall deficiencies with respect to special-needs students, but it might have been more than that. Anyway it would be in the news stories.)

  3. It’s interesting to me that in some of this opinion piece he talks about charger schools as a whole, and in some he specifically targets aea. All while saying it benefits charters and districts but never mentioning aea by name. When we all know, right or wrong, aes is the target. Maybe we need to worry less about where they are located and more about why families by the hundreds are leaving local districts to go there.

  4. Seems to me that it is massaging the facts to say that AADUSD violated the law. It acted within the law as it is written. And it is further disingenuous to say SB1263 did not target AEA given the specific retroactive date. Interesting too that the author completely ignores the financial impact on his district while pointing to the financial incentive of AADUSD. Yet nothing whatsoever suggesting AEA is being mismanaged or violating its charter, which is what he professes to be so concerned about.

  5. Not to mention that the local district here is intentionally trying to keep a good charter out- they don’t like the competition because it makes them look bad.

  6. Not to mention that the local district here is intentionally trying to keep a good charter out- they don’t like the competition because it makes them look bad.

  7. Not to mention that the local district here is intentionally trying to keep a good charter out- they don’t like the competition because it makes them look bad.

  8. Veronica says:

    I find it interesting that the person writing this article has also fought strongly against some of those charter schools. I say, “What’s the threat?” If your district meets those ‘minimum standards’ then allowing a charter school to operate within your border should be no problem. Why the opposition? Are you afraid of the ‘competition’ the charter may create to improve your schools? The comparisons to quality? If you feel your schools are up to the test then why oppose? This isn’t about legality of a charter….this is about forcing a district to ‘cut the fat’ and operate under a new standard that puts the students’ needs first!

  9. Vicki McClure says:

    I was interested to see this article was written by a traditional public school board president, which gave helpful perspective as I was reading. I work for a large charter school that serves many families as an alternative to the traditional classroom. If the bill had passed, one of our Resource Centers would have been shut down (we would have had to choose who doesn’t get tutoring anymore), and the other one only could have stayed open with the permission of the local district (which is not the sponsoring district), and that wasn’t likely to happen. The truth is that the bill would have taken away parental choice, and funneled money back into the traditional school districts, or at least attempted to. The families I work with would have gone to a private ISP or filed their own R-4 to stay out of traditional school. I felt the need to present the facts here of what legally would have happened to the charter I work for, which is not included in the above opinion piece.

  10. “The small and fiscally distressed Acton-Agua Dulce district, for example, has authorized 21 charter schools in recent years.” 21?!

  11. This charter school is scrambling so much that the kids are the ones left suffering. They have ONE school counselor for THREE schools that traveled around. My 4 year old child was struggling and even though they knew it and agreed that she may have not been ready for full kindergarten, they also admitted that they were unable to do anything until she was assessed by the counselor. I was told: “We only have our school psychologist on a part time basis, usually one day per week. Legally, we must assess and service those kids where the law mandates us to do so first. After those kids are legally serviced, then we move in with others to get an initial assessment.” I have the emails to back it up!!! My poor kid had horrible self esteem issues last year due to her inability to keep up because this school was too busy spending money trying to get one over on the other district to focus on the MOST IMPORTANT thing – the children. We were given the run around for MONTHS over it. I knew within a month of school starting that something wasn’t right and brought my concerns to the teacher and then the principal. I was told over and over again that nothing could be done for her until she was assessed and that I wasn’t allowed to pull her until it was done.

    THE ONLY THING THEY HAD TO SAY TO ME WHEN I PULLED HER FROM SCHOOL was “I do apologize, and am sorry that you feel very disappointed.”

    Really?!?!

    Pull your kids before they get hosed too.

  12. K Pfalzgraf says:

    While each side is bound to put their own spin on the story, Mr. Walters seems pretty spot on with his interpretation of the issues. Over here in Acton, the spin from the AADUSD Superintendent is quite different. Superintendent Woodard is seen on video announcing that AB1263 was “killed” and that his own school board could expect not to see any action on the bill for “a year”. He paints a picture that his lobbying efforts with Senate members who will craft verbiage that will help AADUSD and his upcoming personal meeting with the Governor will sway the tide. No reference to legal matters. Towards the end of the meeting, the board announced that the Superintendent’s performance review had been completed. Watch for yourself (discussion of FCMAT report on AADUSD fiscal condition begins at 5 minute mark, discussion on SB1263 starts at 7 minute mark, Superintendent performance review at 31:30 minute mark ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUB2WpO3l8ZjJuuB4OVS4WRA&feature=player_detailpage&v=AkuN0_Kc7fw

    An editorial on my take on the SB1263 issue is here:

    Lower left of page reference to Governor’s veto:

    http://joycemediainc.net/aad20140929/11._Comments,_Politics.html

    Finish on page 13 right column:

    http://joycemediainc.net/aad20140929/13._SB%26T,_Veto.html

  13. As its all still up in the air, opening a new school before the final verdict is in is against the interest of the students.

  14. As its all still up in the air, opening a new school before the final verdict is in is against the interest of the students.

  15. David Chlystek says:

    Contrary to your opinion, Mr. Walters it appears that the Governor agreed with the numerous parents when he put in his reasons for the veto, that it was indeed, unfair to exclude certain schools from the grandfather clause.

    And if your primary concern was to uphold the law, why exempt some schools while others who may have exploited the same loophole, were not.

    Certainly seems like an attack to my eyes. Especially considering that the Newhall school district has suffered from AEA taking away their students, (and dollars).

    If Newhall felt that their school system is as superior as they would like everyone to believe, then why not let AEA fail on it’s own merits? AEA’s waitlist seems to invalidate that claim. Not to mention the good that the school continues to do for the community. A point that you fail to mention when defending your actions.

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