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SUNY disputes city authority to mandate charter parent groups

One of the state’s charter school authorizers is putting the brakes on a city directive that would force all charters to form parent associations.

Yesterday, the head of the city’s charter school office issued a memo to all charter school leaders in the city — even at schools the city did not authorize — saying that state law required them to form parent groups. The city would oversee schools’ compliance with the new requirement, the memo said.

Hours later, the director of the State University of New York’s Charter School Institute, Jonas Chartock, issued a memo of his own. It said that SUNY-authorized schools can ignore the city’s directive. (Chartock’s full letter to SUNY charter schools is below.)

Charter schools are exempt from the law that governs the rest of the state’s schools, Chartock said. And because the new parent association requirement is part of that broader law, it does not apply to charter schools, he said.

The confusion centers on the minute details of amendments to a law that were hastily written in late-night negotiations in May. At the same time Albany doubled the number of charter schools allowed to open in the state, it also amended the state education law that governs mayoral control. The amendment requires the city to establish:

a parents’ association or a parent-teachers’ association in each PUBLIC school under the chancellor’s jurisdiction, and ensur[e] that the districts AND CHARTER SCHOOLS LOCATED WITHIN THE CITY DISTRICT do the same. (The words in capital letters are the new amendments.)

The city is trying to comply with the second part of that paragraph, which requires the chancellor to make sure that all schools — district and charter alike — have parent groups.

“The way that we interpret the law is that the chancellor is obligated to monitor that each school has a parent association for all of the schools in his district, including charter schools,” said Aaron Listhaus, acting executive director of the city’s charter school office.

But SUNY reasons that the school governance law does not apply to its charter schools at all, since they are not under the chancellor’s jurisdiction and the SUNY Board of Trustees is the only body with oversight power over the schools.

“There’s actually not a disagreement,” said James Merriman, the head of the New York City Charter Center. The state mayoral control law does not apply to charter schools by design, Merriman said. But the chancellor does have to follow the law, which means doing everything in his power to make sure that all charter schools form the parent groups.

And there are ways the city can pressure charters into forming parent groups, even if the schools aren’t legally required to start them.

For example, Chartock’s memo notes that he expects the city to make forming a parent organization a condition for any charter school that wants city space. Alternately, if a charter school authorized by SUNY or the Board of Regents refused to start a parent group, the city could refuse to endorse the school when it goes up for renewal. Under the new law, the authorizers are required to take those endorsements into account when making its decisions.

It’s still unclear exactly how the city would proceed if a school authorized by SUNY or the Regents refused to start a parent association. But in the end, Merriman predicted this will be a minor issue since “virtually all” charters already have parent organizations (though no exact numbers were available).

From: Proctor, Cynthia Sent: Tuesday, September 07, 2010 7:38 PM To: Charter Schools Cc: Chartock, Jonas; Rossi, RalphSubject: IMPORTANT Msg. from SUNY Charter Schools Institute re: NYCDOE email sent earlier todayImportance: HighSeptember 7, 2010 MEMORANDUM To: SUNY Authorized Charter School Leaders and Board Chairs From: Jonas S. Chartock, Executive Director, SUNY Charter Schools Institute Subject: NYCDOE Email Regarding Parent Associations Earlier today (Sept. 7, 2010) the New York City Department of Education (the NYCDOE) distributed a memorandum to all charter school leaders in New York City that stated each charter school located in New York City must establish a parents’ association or parent-teacher association. The NYCDOE then further instructed all charter schools located in New York City to report to its Charter Schools Office by October 1 regarding the establishment of such an organization. Please feel free to disregard the NYCDOE’s memorandum in its entirety for the following reasons: * As a SUNY authorized charter school your school is an independent and autonomous public school not associated in any way with the NYCDOE or its Chancellor. * Under the Charter Schools Act, the only New York State or local entities that have oversight authority for your school (other than your school’s board of trustees) are the SUNY Board of Trustees (which acts through the Charter Schools Institute) and the Board of Regents (which acts through the State Education Department). * The New York City Schools Chancellor has no jurisdictional authority over your school. * The amendments to the Education Law referenced by the NYCDOE in its memo were not amendments to the Charter Schools Act, they were only amendments that affect the NYCDOE and its Chancellor. * Like many other laws and regulations applicable to NYCDOE schools, SUNY authorized charter schools are exempt from the parent association requirement by the clear language of Education Law subdivision 2854(1), which is part of the Charter Schools Act. It states that unless the law or regulation relates to student health, safety, civil rights or assessment requirements, charter schools are exempt from all other state and local laws, rules, regulations or policies governing public or private schools, boards of education and school districts. * We recognize that all SUNY authorized charter schools carefully consider the most effective role for parents in their particular school community, whether via an association, representation on the school’s board of trustees, parent committees, and/or regular communication with parents. Note: As the New York City Schools Chancellor is still bound by the amendment to Education Law section 2590-h, it may be prudent for charter schools housed in NYCDOE space to respond to the memo as we expect the Chancellor will require it as a condition of remaining in NYCDOE space even though the NYCDOE has not yet announced that requirement. Please feel free to contact Ralph Rossi, the Institute’s Vice President and General Counsel at ralph.rossi@suny.edu, or me with any questions or concerns.

Jonas S. Chartock
Executive Director
SUNY Charter Schools Institute
41 State Street, Suite 700
Albany, New York 12207
Phone:  (518) 433-8277
Fax:  (518) 427-6510