September 22, 2011 Sacramento City Unified is a large urban school district serving families around the state capitol area. The Association has been supporting members in this district on facility issues for the past three years. In the beginning, the district failed to meet basic timelines for Proposition 39. Today there have been substantial improvements in the process. The biggest change, however, has been seeing how collective action amongst charter school leaders can make a real difference in accessing facilities and securing fair facility use agreements (FUAs) through Prop. 39.
A lot has changed since 2008. In the beginning, school leaders were each negotiating separately with the school district. The schools were not communicating regularly. The district was struggling to hold up their end too: They were voting on FUA's in November, long after the school year had started.
CCSA's first steps were to understand the schools' goals, and learn about the barriers that they were facing. Many of the schools were looking to expand, like Sol Aureus. Others, like the Language Academy of Sacramento (LAS), were stuck in co-locations that were less than ideal. LAS also had been awarded a Proposition 1D grant - state bond money that can be used to build new buildings or rehabilitate old ones. Sacramento Charter High School had unique political issues stemming from its semi-conversion. There were still people in the community that resented a charter school for occupying that space.
By visiting schools, talking to school leaders, and beginning a dialog with the school district, we started to find win-win solutions. At that time, neither the schools nor the district staff really understood the Proposition 39 process. Both the district and the schools were spending a lot of administrative time - and in some cases, legal fees - on renegotiating facility deals every year. On top of that, the district was in declining enrollment. At the same time charters were looking for space, the district was trying to figure out how to manage a growing number of surplus properties.
In 2009, the school leaders and the charter community focused on improving the process and the FUA language. The charter schools received pro-bono legal reviews of their applications of Proposition 39. The regional director met with staff and spoke at board meetings to educate the district board and administration about Proposition 39, and shared our Knowledge Brief. We convened a meeting to review Proposition 39 offers, and the FUA language. We worked with the legal team to identify inaccurate or harmful language in the FUA template and collectively asked for it to be removed. The district facilities director agreed to strike nearly all of the nefarious language. Finally, at the end of the process, the FUA's where acted on in August - three months earlier than prior years. It wasn't June 30, but it was progress!
In 2010, we decided to take it a step further and look for win-win solutions with the district on multi-year agreements and housing for new and growing schools. We knew that the district was cash strapped and might be open to saving resources through multiyear agreements. We also knew they were planning to close and consolidate more traditional public schools and we had a new charter school that needed a location and another that was looking to expand their grade levels.
Working together we were able to deliver! We were successful in securing two-year agreements for four of the seven independent charters and getting Capitol Collegiate and Sol Aureus facilities that would allow them to grow. It was a huge win. One school, the Language Academy of Sacramento leveraged their Prop. 1D facility rehab award to receive a 30 year facility use agreement - a tremendous win! However, despite their considerable academic performance, both Sac High and PS7 only received one-year agreements because some members of the school board would like to move Sacramento Charter High School from the historic Sacramento High School campus.
During the 2011-12 school year, we will be working to support both of these schools, along with Oak Park Prep - a middle school replication of PS7 - through the Prop. 39 process. In addition to securing multiyear agreements for all charter schools, we hope to address the way the pro-rata share is calculated and to push back on the district's inclusion of covered halls and walkways in the square footage for Prop. 39 facilities. We are confident that Sac City charter leaders can triumph if they continue to work together!