The California Supreme Court has ruled that when allocating classrooms to a charter school under Education Code section 47614 and applicable regulations (“Proposition 39”), a district must base its ADA/classroom ratio on the number of classrooms at the comparison school sites that are “provided” to non-charter district students, whether staffed with a teacher or not. (California Charter Schools Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District (April 9, 2015, No. B242601) ___ Cal.App.4th ____ [14 C.D.O.S. 3465].)
In 2010, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) filed suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for breach of a settlement agreement under which LAUSD agreed to provide facilities to charter schools in accordance with Proposition 39. The specific complaint by CCSA was that LAUSD’s use of “norming ratios” to determine how many classrooms were due to a charter school resulted in fewer classrooms being allocated to charter schools than required by the Proposition 39 regulations. “Norming ratios” are LAUSD’s board-approved norms for student/teacher ratios applied district-wide based on funding for teachers and staff. According to LAUSD, the use of such norming ratios was the most appropriate way to ensure that the average daily attendance (ADA)/classroom ratio in each charter school was reasonably equivalent to the ADA/classroom ratio at the comparison schools. CCSA argued that teacher to student ratios were not the proper measure in light of the regulations’ statement that the number of teaching stations should be based upon a district’s classroom inventory as reported under California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 1859.31, regardless of whether the classrooms are used to house district students. The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of LAUSD, concluding that its method of calculating ADA/classroom using norming ratios was consistent with the Proposition 39 regulations because it reflects what is actually provided to students as opposed to a strict classroom count.
The California Supreme Court reversed the judgment, concluding that the use of district-wide norming ratios does not meet the regulatory requirement for determining classroom loading under Proposition 39. Instead, districts must look to the comparison school sites to determine what space is provided to students and at what ratio. However, in reaching its decision, the Supreme Court refused to accept CCSA’s interpretation of the requirements, either, instead offering new guidance as to the proper method for determining how many teaching stations a district must allocate to a charter school.
The Court held that in order to harmonize the regulatory language with the intent of Proposition 39 overall, a school district must base its teaching station allocation on the number of classrooms that are provided to regular district students at each comparison group school – whether staffed with a teacher or not – and then divide the school’s total ADA by that number of classrooms to arrive at the ADA/classroom loading factor that would apply to the charter school’s allocation. For example, if there are 25 classrooms provided to students at a school site that has a district student ADA of 500, then the loading ratio for that school would be 20 ADA per classroom.
In order to determine how many classrooms must be considered in the classroom count, the Court held that a district must start with the classroom inventory it uses for allocations from state facilities funding programs. (see Cal. Code Regs, tit. 2, section 1859.31.) From that gross inventory, a district may then remove classrooms that are not used for K-12 education purposes, such as preschool classrooms, adult education rooms, community education rooms, or classrooms not yet built, to arrive at the total number of classrooms at the comparison school site. The Court was clear that whether a classroom is staffed with a teacher is not a criterion that determines whether the classroom would be considered as “provided” to a student. For example, a district would include in its classroom count an unstaffed classroom that is used by students as a study room. Thus, the key factor in deciding which classrooms to count is whether it is provided to students for K-12 student activities, regardless of staffing. However, the Court left open the question of whether such space would be allocated as “specialized classroom space” and/or “non-teaching space” under Proposition 39 noting that “[t]he proper classification of a disputed classroom or facility will ordinarily require a developed factual record that this declaratory relief action does not present.”
The Court ultimately described a three step process for allocation of classrooms: “First, the district must identify comparison group schools as section 11969.3(a) prescribes. Second, the district must count the number of classrooms in the comparison group schools using the section 1859.31 inventory and then adjust the number to reflect those classrooms ‘provided to’ students in the comparison group schools. Third, the district must use the resulting number as the denominator in the ADA/classroom ratio for allocating classrooms to charter schools based on their projected ADA.”
The California Supreme Court has provided a step by step approach for the determination of classroom loading requirements under Proposition 39. While the formula for deriving the total number of teaching stations may differ from what some districts have used in the past, the result may not be materially different. The Court does provide in its analysis some examples of classrooms to count or not count, but each district will have to carefully review space utilization at the comparison to arrive at its own conclusions regarding the specific classroom count to factor into the ADA/classroom ratio. This decision is prospective in its application and should not affect offers for 2015-16 that are currently being finalized.
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