Rent control

Taking DOE to court, parents resurrect battle over co-locations

Lawyers for the Department of Education were back on the defense in Judge Paul Feinman’s courtroom on Thursday morning to argue a new twist on an old charter school co-location debate.

A new lawsuit argues that more than 80 charter schools sited in public school buildings have gotten free rides on facilities expenses such as utilities and building maintenance. Parent groups who brought the lawsuit earlier this summer are suing want the DOE to collect more than $100 million in rent money that they say should have been charged.

Today’s hearing on the lawsuit, which did not yield an immediate decision, comes less than two months after the same judge rejected the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP’s request to halt all charter school co-locations. That lawsuit argued that the co-location plans favored the charter schools.

In today’s hearing, arguments focused on the city’s policy, in place since 2003, that lets charter schools share space free of charge. Eighty two charter schools are now occupied in public buildings that house an estimated 27,500 students, according to court papers.

New York State charter law, first written in 1999, states that charter schools can be located within a public school building “at cost” based on what they are charged to rent, lease or own private or public space. How much “at cost” should be worth – if anything at all – was a major source of disagreement between the sides.

Arthur Schwartz, arguing for the plaintiffs, said in court that the charter schools in public school buildings should have to pay for the per-pupil costs because it provided them with inequitably favorable resources at a time when district schools are forced to cut their budgets.

“It gets at the heart of some of the disparities of the tales that we’ve heard in the schools,” Schwartz told Feinman.

Schwartz cited an Independent Budget Office report that concluded that charter schools received more per-pupil funding because of costs that weren’t factored into its budget. Schwartz used the number to tally the $100 million bill. A plaintiff on the suit, Noah Gotbaum, clarified that they would likely have to recalculate based on more precise estimations.

Defendants representing charter schools in the lawsuit vigorously rejected the totals filed in court papers DOE lawyers argued that even if the totals were accurate, they were in no way required to charge charter schools money for these expenses in the first place. “At cost,” they said, only applied if the DOE had contracts with the charter schools and none of them were.

In a joint statement put out by Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the New York City Charter Center, 13 schools named in the lawsuit criticized the lawsuit as politically-charged.

“The simple truth is that district schools get facilities funding while charter schools don’t. Forcing public charter schools to pay rent would create enormous inequities and force the closure of some of the highest performing schools in the city.”

More than a dozen charter school operators named in the lawsuit also testified that, if forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars that was being asked of them, they’d be forced to severely cut staff and, in some cases, close their schools.

Feinman ordered another hearing date for Sept. 28. A person involved in the lawsuit said that it was unlikely that the judge would take immediate action because it would disrupt the school year.

“Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that the charter schools are going to be immediately given a bill for $100 million next week,” the source said.

 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.