Ending the Prop 39 Charter Facility Fiasco

The way that Oakland Unified allocates facilities is bad for kids, schools, and likely the district’s bank account.  We have all heard about the “too many schools” problem, but here I am talking about Proposition 39 which mandates that districts make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to public charter school students.

This is an annual ritual fraught with conflict, anger, and lawsuits: a giant game of musical chairs where a couple of district staff are supposed to allocate thousands of charter seats amidst district facilities, smashing large square pegs into a myriad of small round holes.

Practically this can’t be done fairly without, in many cases, disrupting existing OUSD sites in bigger or smaller ways or splitting the charters into multiple sites, and usually both.  It’s doubly bad for the charters, who often don’t know where they will be sited, go through an appeals process and delays, and have to put precious time and energy into a fight for something they have a right to be given.

And it’s hard to tell parents who need to enroll their child somewhere, that you aren’t sure where you will be located in the Fall.

Leases or lawyers

There are only two things the district can do legally; one, they can develop a long term lease outside of the Prop 39 process, or two, they can go through the yearly musical chairs, or I guess, three, they can get sued and lose.

As a lawyer I agree with Dickens, “the law is a ass.”  Going to court wastes time and money and also subjects you to judicial fiat, which even if well intentioned probably won’t come up with the best plan.   I believe that we are better off negotiating our way to good agreements which provide stability and better outcomes for everyone.

And let’s be clear, there is no free ride.  Charters pay for the sites, which otherwise may sit shuttered costing the district money.  And speaking for Lazear Charter Academy, millions of dollars are going into upgrading the site, which is OUSD’s.  And in many cases, charters continue to use the district custodial staff and pay for them.

Meanwhile, the musical chairs game of Prop 39 is a mess year after year, with stupefying results that will likely cost the district money, and further divide the community.  Nobody likes to get sued, but nobody likes to get screwed either.

The absurdity of this process was on full display at the 3/22 OUSD Board meeting, 16 charters requested facilities under prop 39, and the majority of those are going to be a fight.  At the same time another 15 charters did not request sites, because they have long term agreements, so no fight, no instability.  We need more in column B and less in column A.

And let’s look at a couple of the “offers

An offer you can’t accept

The detailed offer proposed at the Board meeting involved moving East Oakland Leadership Academy which is currently at Seminary and Foothill (Emphasize the East Oakland) to Westlake Middle (yeah on the west side of Lake Merrit), that’s 6 miles.  And for a school whose parents walk to school with children, it’s a community killer, maybe a school killer.

And that was a single site offer, so I guess that is relatively good. Though Prop 39 says that charter sites should be “contiguous,” many charter offers are sited across multiple campuses.

American Indian Public Charter II had its students distributed over 5 different sites; Allendale, Skyline, Munck, Howard, and Garfield.  How could a principal manage that?  They can’t.

And I challenge anyone with a straight face to argue this is “reasonably equivalent” to other district facilities.   You can’t.  It’s not.  You will lose in court.

Instability is bad for schools, kids and the district

I know a vocal minority don’t like or agree with the Prop 39, but it was approved by the voters overwhelmingly, and gave public charter school students rights to district facilities, setting rules and timelines.  By all means lobby to overturn it, but until then it’s the law.

Districts have ignored the law to their own peril.  LAUSD lost a $7 million lawsuit last year on Prop 39, and Oakland is poised to lose as well if it comes to that, based on my reading of the law and facts.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  The current approach is administratively very challenging, and leaves few real options.  Meanwhile the district is sitting on undeveloped plots of land, underutilized sites, and other assets to use in reaching agreements with charters before it comes to Prop 39, avoiding the yearly drama, lawsuits, and uncertainty.  And OUSD already has successfully negotiated many agreements.

Schools not knowing where they are going, last minute changes, splitting schools into multiple sites, all these things are bad for kids and learning.  So to advocate for policies that consistently create these conditions is bad for kids no matter whose “side” you are on.  And it’s going to create a bad situation for the district, where they will lose a lawsuit, lose money, and may lose autonomy on these decisions.

There is a better way to get this done, I hope we can sit around a table and agree before we are disagreeing in front of a judge.


What do you think?

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