Court Clarifies Proposition 39 “Reasonably Equivalent” Standard

November 2011

In Bullis Charter School v. Los Altos School District, et al.  (October 27, 2011, H035195), the California Court of Appeal reversed a Santa Clara County Superior Court decision and found that the Los Altos School District failed to offer and provide a charter school with facilities that were reasonably equivalent to its comparative schools, in violation of the Charter Schools Act (“Act”) (Cal. Educ. Code section 47600 et seq.)

In 1992, the Legislature enacted the Act.  Eight years later, the California electorate amended the Act by adopting Proposition 39.  Under that amendment, school districts must provide to charter schools established within their jurisdiction school facilities with “conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the [charter school] students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the district.”  (Cal. Educ. Code section 47614(b).)  The regulations specify that a school district, in responding to a Proposition 39 facilities request, must offer reasonably equivalent facilities by: 1) selecting appropriate district-run schools to use as a comparison group with the charter school, 2) considering three categories of space (teaching, specialized teaching, and non-teaching space) in the comparison group schools, and 3) considering the site size of the comparison schools.  In making its facilities offer, the school district must make a good faith effort to consider and accurately measure all of the facilities of the comparison group schools and accurately describe the facilities offered to the charter school.

Bullis Charter School filed a petition for writ of mandamus and a complaint alleging that the Los Altos School District had violated the Act by failing to offer and provide Bullis Charter School with facilities for the 2009-2010 school year that were reasonably equivalent to other public schools in the District.  The Court of Appeal found that the District, in its facilities offer, excluded from consideration over one million square feet of collective non-classroom space of the comparison schools.  The Court also found that the District overstated the facilities offered to Bullis Charter School by considering a soccer field on a 100 percent basis even though its shared use made it available to the charter school only 40 percent of the time, and by considering a multi-purpose room as being District-supplied, even though it was built, owned, and operated by Bullis.  Also, the Court of Appeal found that the District used an arbitrary “standard” size figure for certain facilities (i.e. libraries) instead of actual square footage, thereby understating the appropriate size of such facility to be offered to Bullis.  Consequently, the Court held that the District’s facilities offer for the 2009-2010 school year did not comply with the legal standards.

The Court further explained that, while a Proposition 39 analysis does not necessarily compel a school district to allocate and provide to a charter school each and every particular room or other facility available to the comparison schools, it must at least account for the comparison school’s facilities in its proposal.  The Court reasoned that a determination of reasonable equivalence can be made only if facilities made available to the students attending the comparison schools are listed and considered.  While mathematical exactitude is not required, a Proposition 39 facilities offer must present a good faith attempt to identify and quantify the facilities available to the schools in the comparison group in order to determine the “reasonably equivalent” facilities that must be offered and provided to a charter school.

If you have any questions regarding this matter and the reasonably equivalent standard, please call one of our six offices.

F3 NewsFlash prepared by Melanie Petersen and Martha Casillas.
Melanie is a partner in the F3 San Diego office.
Martha is an associate in the F3 Los Angeles office.

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