back pay

Judge dismisses suit to make co-located charter schools to pay rent

A judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking $100 million in rent from charter schools that have for years occupied space for free in public school buildings.

The lawsuit, filed by parents and advocates nearly two years ago, claimed that the city Department of Education was in violation of state education law by giving city-owned space to privately managed charter schools at no charge. The parents estimated that the annual free ride cost more than $96 million, a total they sought to steer toward hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes after years of budget cuts.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe didn’t rule on the fundamental issue of whether charter schools should pay rent. Instead, she ruled that it is not the court’s role to settle disputes over state education law. She said that must first go through the State Education Department, a  precedent that was established in the UFT’s 2010 suit against rising class sizes.

But even as Jaffe ruled against the parent groups, she wrote that the concerns they raised were legitimate.

The charter sector has thrived under the Bloomberg administration, which has awarded free space to more than 60 percent of 159 charter schools. The schools are often placed alongside existing schools in a controversial arrangement known as “co-location.”

Critics have said that the policy introduces stark inequities and breeds unnecessary tension, issues that Jaffe suggested were valid.

“There is no dispute that charter schools, through public funding and private donations, have access to more financial resources than those available to traditional public schools,” Jaffe wrote. Those resources, she continued, are used for improvements for charter schools that are “within the full view of traditional public school students.”

“Parents of public school students thus understandably bristle not only at the disparate treatment of the students, but at how open and notorious it is,” Jaffe wrote.

Despite Jaffe’s parting shot, charter school advocates treated the ruling as a decisive victory that would put the controversy to bed.

“We hope that we can now finally move beyond this debate and have serious discussions with all of New York City’s education stakeholders about how to ensure that the city’s students have access to high quality schools in every neighborhood,” James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Sector, said in a statement.

“This is a fundamental victory that preserves quality education options for our students and their parents,” city spokeswoman Erin Hughes said. “Mandatory rent would place a tremendous financial burden on charter schools and in some cases could force closures.”

Seth Andrew, who runs four Harlem charter schools open in public space, said an unfavorable ruling would have had a profoundly negative impact his students.

“For most of our schools, we would have had to close our doors,” said Andrew, who is superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools, which also operates two schools in leased private space. Andrew said per-pupil costs in schools in private space is at least $2,000 more than his co-located schools.

The decision comes as the city prepares for a new mayor who may not be as friendly to the charter school sector as Bloomberg has been. Three Democratic candidates have called for a moratorium on co-locations.

A fourth candidate, front-running Speaker Christine Quinn, has said that she would not charged rent to charter schools.

Andrew said that the timing of the court’s decision could send a message to candidates thinking about charging charter schools rent in the future.

“Mayoral candidates who may want to amend the mayor’s policies on co-location now must do so using both a political and a legal lens,” he said.

New York City Parents Union’s Mona Davids, who represents one of two parent groups listed on the law suit, said that she intends to challenge the ruling in court and through the State Education Department.

“The judge is saying that we didn’t exhaust all our remedies, so we will file the petition with King and we will file an appeal on the judge’s decision,” Davids said.

Judge dismisses $100 million charter school co-location rent lawsuit. by GothamSchools.org

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news