August 2022 ACCS - Item 3 Public Comment 2Public Comment 2 received for Agenda Item 3 of the August 11, 2022, Advisory Commission on Charter Schools meeting.
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[The following information was provided as a joint letter from the California School Employees Association and the California Teachers Association.]
August 8, 2022
RE: Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS) August 2022 Item 3
Subject: Appeal of the Denial of a Petition for the Establishment of a Classroom-Based Charter School Pursuant to California Education Code Section 47605(k)(2): Consideration of Evidence to Hear or Summarily Deny the Appeal of Mayacamas Charter Middle School, which was denied by the Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa County Board of Education
Dear Members of the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools:
We are writing respectfully with reference to Mayacamas Charter Middle School’s (MCMS) abuse of discretion appeal to the State Board of Education (SBE). The California School Employees Association (CSEA) and the California Teachers Association (CTA) collectively represent over half a million educators and classified staff across the State of California. We are proud to advocate on behalf of classified professionals, certificated educators, and our students.
CSEA and CTA urge the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS) to recommend that the SBE summarily deny the MCMS appeal. The points we outline below demonstrate that the facts of this appeal do not support the claim that the decisions were the result of an abuse of discretion.
I. Summary of Facts
A. District’s Denial of Mayacamas Petition
At its December 9, 2021, governing board meeting, Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) denied the MCMS charter petition based on the following findings:
- The petition presents an unsound educational program (Education Code [EC] Section 47605[c]).
- The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition (EC Section 47605[c]).
- The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of Elements (A) through (O) of EC Section 47605(c)(5)(A).
- The proposed charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate (EC Section 47605[c]).
B. County’s Denial of Mayacamas Petition
Subsequently, MCMS appealed the district’s denial of its petition to the Napa County Board of Education (NCBOE).
At its March 15, 2022, meeting, NCBOE denied the MCMS charter petition based on the following finding:
- MCMS is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate (EC Section 47605[c]).
Accordingly, the NCBOE voted to deny the MCMS petition.
II. Legal Standards for Abuse of Discretion
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). 1
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 the MCMS 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 AB 1505 was to return control over charter school authorizing to local school districts.
A. Neither NVUSD nor NCBOE abused its discretion because their denials were supported by substantial evidence and did not “exceed the bounds of reason.”
The CDE staff review of the appeal states that, “In its attached exhibit, MCMS’ treatment of the NVUSD’s decision is limited, and consists primarily of an allegation that the process was unfair and biased (Attachment 1, pp. 20–21). NVUSD made four findings in support of its decision to deny the petition (Attachment 3). MCMS’ appeal provides limited detail challenging one of NVUSD’s findings (‘Petitioners are unlikely to successfully implement the program’) but does not challenge other evidence relied upon by NVUSD (Attachment 1, pp. 21–22).
MCMS asserts that NCBOE did not issue a decision and adopt findings in a timely manner (Attachment 1, pp. 14–16). In their written oppositions, both NVUSD and NCBOE, respectively, state that NCBOE’s actions were within the timeline required by statute (Attachment 7, p. 14 and 72, Attachment 8, p. 6 and 25). NCBOE had one finding (‘MCMS is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community,’ Attachment 5). MCMS’ appeal provides limited detail challenging NCBOE’s findings but does not challenge specific evidence relied upon by NCBOE (Attachment 1, pp. 17–20).”
Education Code 47605(c) sets forth eight statutory findings that permit a district or county board of education to deny a charter petition. As noted above, NVUSD staff recommended that the board deny the petition based on four specific findings and numerous factual deficiencies in a petition that was largely copied and pasted from a prior petition submitted to a different district. The district’s findings were based on a thorough analysis informed by a charter petition review team comprised of experts in areas including business services, enrollment, human resources, and special education. Evaluating the charter petition in this manner produced a comprehensive, detailed, and well-reasoned analysis of the proposed school.
Additionally, NCBOE voted to deny the petition upon finding that MCMS would not serve the interests of the entire community due to projected budget deficits caused by declining enrollment. MCMS, the board found, would worsen the district’s budget problem, necessitating teacher layoffs and programmatic cuts. Since 2014, the district has been deficit spending, reducing their reserves to critically low levels. The petitioners do not challenge this specific factual evidence; instead, they argue that errors in procedures and timeline mean that NCBOE abused their discretion. Minor procedural errors do not rise to the high standard of an abuse of discretion. NCBOE, like NVUSD, voted to deny the MCMS based on specific evidence largely undisputed by the petitioners.
NVUSD and NCBOE both acted within the letter of the law in denying the MCMS petition. The local education agencies followed the law and the MCMS appeal does not offer sufficient evidence of abuse of discretion as defined above.
On page six of the item, the CDE rightly states that, “In MCMS’ claims against NVUSD’s and NCBOE’s findings, and in its procedural allegation against NVUSD, MCMS’ written submission contains limited detail of how NVUSD or NCBOE abused their discretion in the denial of the charter petition, pursuant to EC Section 47605(k)(2)(A).”
We respectfully urge the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools to recommend that the State Board of Education summarily deny the MCMS appeal. If you have any questions regarding our position, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
California School Employees Association
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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