CSBA sues State Board of Education for violations of the charter appeal process

Earlier this week, the CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance, which represents nearly 1,000 school districts and county offices of education throughout California, filed a lawsuit against the California State Board of Education (SBE). CSBA’s lawsuit supports the Napa Valley Unified School District’s (NVUSD) position in its litigation related to the Mayacamas Charter School petition. Among other claims, CSBA challenged the SBE for “exceeding its authority and improperly substituting its judgment for the discretionary judgment of the governing board of the Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa County Board of Education.”

The litigation involves the SBE decision reversing the denial of the Mayacamas Charter petition by both Napa Valley USD and Napa COE per the terms of Assembly Bill 1505, a charter school reform bill signed into law in October 2019. AB 1505 was the subject of extended negotiations between legislators, the Governor’s office, the State Superintendent, labor unions, state education associations, parent groups and supporters and critics of charter schools. CSBA was actively involved in the legislative process leading to the enactment of AB 1505, which resulted in the establishment of a new framework for transparency and delegation of authority related to charter schools, including the charter authorization and appeal process, and limiting the authority of the SBE to reconsider charter petition appeals.

“It’s disheartening to see the State Board of Education disregard not only the law but also the work of stakeholders on all sides of the charter issue that produced the carefully crafted reforms sought by authorizers and charter proponents in AB 1505,” said CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “A key provision of this bipartisan legislation was that local authorizers — both school districts and county offices of education — could more closely consider the impact of a charter school on a local community and tailor their decision-making processes regarding petitions and renewals accordingly. The SBE undermined this agreed-upon principle, overstepped its authority and sidestepped the law in reversing the denials of the petition by the local governing boards.”

In addition to setting aside the SBE’s approval of the Mayacamas Charter, CSBA also seeks “declaratory relief confirming the SBE’s limited role when considering charter petition appeals” to stop the SBE from breaching the recent changes to the Charter School Act that were specifically designed to promote local control.

According to the CSBA court filing, “SBE wholly failed to accept its limited role of reviewing for error as established by Legislature in AB 1505, and sought to create grounds for reversal that:

  1. were not supported by any written submission by petitioner [Napa Foundation] “detailing, with specific citations to the documentary record, how the governing board of the school district or the county board of education, or both, abused their discretion” as required by Education Code section 47605(k)(2)(A);
  2. did not establish an abuse of discretion by either the governing board of Napa Valley USD or the Napa County Board of Education;
  3. were unsupported by any factual findings reflecting a rational connection between the few citations to errors identified by petitioner, the facts in the underlying record, and the SBE’s conclusion that an abuse of discretion occurred; and
  4. ostensibly relied upon evidence or considerations beyond the administrative record.

In doing so, the SBE violated the Charter School Act and undermined the Legislature’s express intent in enacting AB 1505 to give broad discretionary authority over the creation of new charter schools to the local education agencies that are in the best position to make decisions regarding the creation of new public charter schools in their communities.”

In November 2022, NVUSD pursued legal action against SBE, challenging SBE’s unlawful reversal of decisions made by both NVUSD and NCOE to deny the Mayacamas Charter Middle School petition. NVUSD asserted that the SBE’s decision was an abuse of discretion with potentially calamitous statewide implications. NVUSD’s challenge was supported by virtually every major statewide educational association as demonstrated by the many letters NVUSD received. [Those letters can be accessed here.]

“CSBA’s lawsuit affirms NVUSD’s position on this very critical issue regarding charter appeals and AB 1505 interpretation,” NVUSD Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti stated. “Such an overreach of authority by SBE sets a dangerous precedent at both the local and statewide levels — a precedent that is not in the best interest of the district or our students. We are appreciative of CSBA’s decision to litigate this issue as our own lawsuit against the SBE advances through the courts.”