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June 2022 ACCS - Item 3 Public Comment 2

Public Comment 2 received for agenda Item 1 of the June 14, 2022, Advisory Commission on Charter Schools meeting.

To receive an electronic copy of the below communication, contact the Charter Schools Division by email at charters@cde.ca.gov.


[The following information was provided as a joint letter from the California School Employees Association and the California Teachers Association.]

June 10, 2022

Dear Advisory Commissioners:

We are writing respectfully with reference to Item #3 on the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools June 14, 2022, meeting agenda regarding Samoa Beach Academy’s (SBA) abuse of discretion appeal to the State Board of Education (SBE).

I. Summary of Facts

A. District’s Denial of SBA Petition

SBA submitted a petition to Northern Humboldt Union High School District (NHUHSD) on June 18, 2021. After a comprehensive review of SBA’s petition, district staff and legal experts at NHUHSD recommended that the board deny the petition for the following reasons:

  1. The proposed school presented an unsound educational program for both Career Technical Education (CTE) and special education students; and,
  2. The proposed school is demonstrably unlikely to succeed for budgetary and other reasons.

The district staff made written factual findings specific to the SBA petition to support these reasons for denial, including the following:

  1. SBA will be unable to provide “High Quality Curriculum and Instruction” based on their overwhelming reliance on digital instruction and inability to recruit the necessary number of CTE teachers holding appropriate credentials in three distinct sectors.
  2. SBA does not accurately project the revenues to implement its special education plan and honor its legal obligations to serve students with disabilities.
  3. SBA made erroneous projections for its average daily attendance (ADA) and assumptions for growth not based in reality.

In addition, NHUHSD staff appropriately and exhaustively responded to SBA’s letter rebutting the district staff findings citing statistical data from the district and county and after consulting with fiscal officers, the Special Education Local Area Plan (SELPA) Director, and other qualified experts. NHUHSD went above and beyond in completing their due diligence to appropriately recommend that the Board deny SBA’s petition.

Based on these and other findings, the NHUHSD board ultimately voted to deny SBA’s petition at a public hearing on September 14, 2021.

B. County’s Denial of SBA Petition

Subsequently, SBA appealed the district’s denial of its petition to the Humboldt County Board of Education (HCBOE).

On January 24, 2022, HCBOE issued staff findings recommending that the County Board of Education deny SBA’s petition. HCBOE staff conducted a de novo review of the petition and reiterated the two primary reasons for denial first presented by NHUHSD staff. Additionally, HCOE staff further found that the petition does not have enough signatures from meaningfully interested teachers based on new interviews conducted by staff and as required by Education Code Section 47605(c)(3).

Accordingly, the HCBOE voted to deny SBA’s petition.

II. Legal Standards for Abuse of Discretion

Pursuant to Education Code § 47605(k)(2)(A), (C), and (E), the State Board of Education may only reverse NHUHSD and HCBOE’s decision to deny SBA’s petition if it finds that there was an “abuse of discretion.”1

The term “abuse of discretion” is not defined in the Education Code and the SBE has yet to promulgate regulations defining the term. However, it is clear from widely-accepted common law definitions in state and federal jurisprudence that an “abuse of discretion” standard is very deferential, and that an appellate body should only overturn a decision if it is “convinced firmly that the reviewed decision lies beyond the pale of reasonable justification under the circumstances.” McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger, LLC (9th Cir. 2011) 637 F.3d 939, 953 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

Thus, an abuse of discretion only “occurs if, in light of the applicable law and considering all of the relevant circumstances, the court’s decision exceeds the bounds of reason and results in a miscarriage of justice.” Mejia v. City of Los Angeles (2007) 156 Cal. App. 4th 151, 158, 67 Cal. Rptr. 3d 228, 232 (2007) (citing California Supreme Court cases). “An abuse of discretion is a plain error, discretion exercised to an end not justified by the evidence, a judgment that is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts as are found.” Rabkin v. Oregon Health Sciences Univ. (9th Cir. 2003) 350 F.3d 967, 977. Under the abuse of discretion standard, an appellate body cannot reverse absent a definite and firm conviction that the lower agency committed a clear error of judgment in the conclusion it reached upon a weighing of relevant factors. McCollough, 637 F.3d at 953.

The abuse of discretion standard “affords considerable deference” to the other agency’s decision, and “presume[s] that the [other agency] properly applied the law and acted within its discretion unless the appellant affirmatively shows otherwise.” Mejia,156 Cal. App. 4th 151, 158.

The SBE may grant a charter petition on appeal only if it finds that both local educational agencies (LEAs) abused their discretion. In other words, the SBE need not affirm both decisions to uphold one LEA’s decision to deny SBA’s petition. See Education Code § 47605(k)(2)(E) (“If the state board hears the appeal, the state board may affirm the determination of the governing board of the school district or the county board of education, or both of those determinations, or may reverse only upon a determination that there was an abuse of discretion.”) (emphasis added). Otherwise, absurd results would follow: if a district denied a petition for sound and valid reasons, but on appeal a county abused its discretion during the appeal process, the county’s errors should not invalidate the district’s lawful action. See California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court (2008) 158 Cal. App. 4th 726, 736 (courts interpret statutory language to “comport[] most closely with the apparent intent of the Legislature, with a view toward promoting, rather than defeating, the general purpose of the statute and avoiding an interpretation that would lead to absurd consequences.”). A primary purpose of Assembly Bill (AB) 1505 was to return control over charter school authorizing to local school districts.

III. Analysis

A. Neither NHUHSD nor HCBOE abused its discretion because their denials were supported by substantial evidence and did not “exceed the bounds of reason.”

SBA appeals the district’s and county’s denials on the basis that they were not supported by substantial evidence. However, both NHUHSD and HCBOE made “written factual findings, specific to the particular petition, setting forth specific facts to support” their findings, as required by Education Code Section 47605(c). These findings were supported by ample evidence in the record and neither decision exceeds the bounds of reason.

SBA’s appeal is just a gussied-up way of saying that SBA dislikes the LEAs’ consideration and weighing of evidence, which is a mere disagreement about the interpretation of facts, not an abuse of discretion. See In re Marriage of Connolly (1979) 23 Cal. 3d 590, 598, 591 P.2d 911, 915 (“When two or more inferences can reasonably be deduced from the facts, a reviewing court lacks power to substitute its deductions for those of the trial court.”).

B. Minor procedural errors do not rise to the level of “abuse of discretion.”

SBA also appeals the district’s and county’s denials on the basis of minor procedural errors (i.e., requirements regarding equal time, equal procedure, and the production of transcripts). These minor procedural errors—which do not affect the outcome of the district or county’s board otherwise well-founded decisions to deny the petition —should not be considered “abuses of discretion” resulting in an authorization of this petition by the SBE.

To hold otherwise would be to flout the intention of AB 1505. That law significantly changed the role of the SBE in the charter process to ensure that the SBE could not approve charters petitions denied by LEAs unless there were significant issues regarding the review and appeal process at the local level. By restricting the SBE’s review to abuses of discretion, the Legislature intended for local decisions to remain intact unless a decision “exceeds the bounds of reason and results in a miscarriage of justice.” Minor procedural errors do not meet this high bar.

For example, if a petitioner submits a flagrantly unlawful charter petition but the chartering authority fails to give literally the same amount of time to the petitioner and its staff at the hearing, the SBE should not overturn the chartering authority’s denial and authorize the unlawful petition, because the chartering authority’s decision neither exceeded the bounds of reason nor resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

In addition, SBA’s petition ignores the many ways in which NHUHSD and HCBOE followed the procedural requirements of the law:

Education Code 47605(b)
  • LEAs held public hearings on the provisions of the charter within 60 days after receipt of the petition;
  • LEAs acted to deny the charter within 90 days of receipt of the petition;
  • LEAs published all staff recommendations, including the recommended findings, at least 15 days before the public hearing;
  • SBA was granted equivalent time and procedures to present evidence and testimony to respond to the staff recommendations and findings.
Education Code 47605(c)
  • LEAs made written factual findings, specific to the particular petition, to support the following conclusions:
    • The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school—in this case, special education students and CTE students;
    • The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition—here, based on budgetary and other reasons.
    • The petition does not contain the number of signatures required by subdivision (a)—because two of the four teachers that submitted signatures according to this provision reported to staff that they were either not committed to teaching at SBA or no longer meaningfully interested in teaching at SBA.

IV. Conclusion

NHUHSD and HCBOE acted within the letter of the law in denying SBA’s petition. The local education agencies submitted comprehensive findings to their respective boards that support specific conclusions as to why SBA’s petition should be denied.

We therefore urge the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools to recommend that the State Board of Education affirm HCBOE’s and NHUHSD’s decisions to deny the Samoa Beach Academy charter school petition.

Sincerely,

Cassie Mancini
Legislative Advocate
California School Employees Association

Efrain Mercado
Legislative Advocate
California Teachers Association


1 On May 12, 2022, a coalition including CSEA and CTA submitted a letter to the State Board of Education explaining its understanding of the “abuse of discretion” standard under Education Code § 47605.


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