11/05/2006

An Attack on Charter Schools

[Note: I originally had a post up dealing with an attempt by a government bureaucrat to make trouble for a charter school. People involved in the case have asked me to pull the post for the time being; I have archived the original and will hopefully add more details later.]

[UPDATE 11/18: It's later. The original post follows; here is a link to a news article covering the case.]


On Friday, I received an email from a relative which was so disturbing that I ask for, and received, permission to reprint most of it here:
The New School is being targeted like no other charter school in the state's history, according to the school's attorneys. These attorneys have represented at least 2/3 of the charter schools in CA, so they have a good idea of the level of harassment we are getting.

I have lots of details, but suffice it to say, that there is a man in the DPLU (Dept of Planning & Land Use) in San Diego County that absolutely refuses to let the school "be" anywhere. We're trying to find a new location, and he has shut down all directions starting with "our current location is suddenly not compliant with zoning" to "being treated like a private school for purposes of finding a new location." The law is on our side in every area. We are compliant with the zoning, and we are a public school, so we are supposed to be able to pick any site we want and move there. When presented with all of the law behind us, his response is, "I don't care." We apparently need his permission to move forward, but for some reason, he won't let us...maybe, simply, because he can! He's trying to drain us of our funds by requiring all sorts of legal briefs, etc. We think that this is his plan to end the school...to drain our money.

The parents met last night and learned all of these wonderful things. We are trying to form some sort of political action to fix this. We all want to fight. This school has outstanding standardized test scores. The director thinks that this idiot, Jeff Murphy, might be bluffing because if we took him to court, he'd surely lose because the law is on our side…. We will be going to the press soon, getting on some talk radio shows, and trying to be picked up by "big" newspapers, etc.

But we have limited time here—our director was given a Compromise by the DPLU that is supposed to be signed by Monday if we are going to sign it at all. It allows us to stay where we are until the end of the year as long as we then dissolve. She (director) isn't going to sign it, and we are expecting to be locked out of the facility on Tuesday. If that happens, we will file an injunction that will at least let us exist until it's all sorted out. As a charter school, we don't have to meet there, and have resolved to be on permanent field trips until it's settled. We'd rather not have to do that, of course.
The official in question is subordinate to Supervisor Bill Horn, who has acknowledged that Murphy has exceeded his legal authority, but refuses to stop him.

There are at least three issues here. First, obviously, is that a government official is waging a vendetta against a legal charter school, without any justification or legal standing. I would like to ask my readers to help spread the word about this gross abuse of power, and help fight back. Bill Horn needs to hear from people, and the DPLU needs to be swamped with calls and emails. This is about more than a single school; the charter school in question is one of the most successful schools in the state of California, in a relatively affluent area—i.e. full of parents who can be expected to seek out educational opportunities beyond the traditional public school. This makes the New School dangerous to the established educational bureaucracy. If government officials can shut it down without any opposition, the entire school choice movement could be set back years.

Second is the broader issue: here we have a government bureaucrat who is acting in ways which are universally acknowledged to be illegal; yet he can still wield the power of government machinery in order to coerce his victims to submit. And the burden is on his victims to prove that what he is doing is illegal! (On their own nickel, of course.) I find it disturbing that none of Murphy's subordinates (the ones who actually will carry out his dictat) are able to judge the legality of his behavior, and refuse to take part in it. I find it even more disturbing that Murphy's boss, Supervisor Horn, can admit that his subordinate is acting illegally, yet still refuse to curb him without consequence.

If this were the military, Murphy and Horn would both be facing courts-martial (assuming, of course, that Murphy's actions are indeed illegal); consider that the officers in charge of Abu Ghraib were punished for the infractions of soldiers many steps below them in the chain of command. The larger point is that you have an obligation to control the behavior of your subordinates. Horn seems to be abrogating that obligation.

Third, this episode displays the ease with which zoning regulations can be exploited for malicious ends by government officials. There is a proposition on the California ballot that could mitigate this problem, Prop. 90; it would allow property-owners who are penalized by changes in zoning, building codes, etc. to sue for damages. Please vote for this proposition; it is without a doubt the most important piece of legislation on the ballot.

1 comment:

Lisa Berlanga - General Manager, California Charter Schools Association said...

Charter Schools are first and foremost public schools. The intent of charter law is to provide families with choices within the public school system. Many Charter Schools offer programs that historically have only been offered in the private sector such as Waldorf, Classical or Montessori. In addition to offering a variey of programs, Public Charter Schools often provide smaller schools with more personal attention. The beauty in the Public Charter School System is that students who tranditionally didn't have access to these types of programs now do, in a public school system, free of charge.
It is unforunate that bureaucrats making decisions are unaware of the laws that govern Public Charter Schools. It is tragic that they can arbitarily cause students to suffer because their school, that they have choosen to attend, has lost their space to provide the best education it can. It is the children who suffer when bureaucracy gets in the way. Another reason public charter schools were created, to avoid bureaucracy that gets in the way of a student's opportunity to learn.
The Charter School in question is a Public Charter School providing choice to families in their community. Their student achievement record is fantastic! Is is sad that bureaucrats have made it more difficult for them to provide a quality program and to continue to improve student achievement.
We hope the bureaucrats involved will take the time to find out what the laws governing Public Charter Schools are and abide by them. Anyone with questions about Public Charter Schools is encouraged to contact the California Charter Schools Association at www.charterassociation.org.