Monday, January 10, 2011

Ross Global Sues to Stay Open

Legal suit fascinating: RGA complains bitterly of DOE moving them from one location to another – as they expanded and they knew they would have to move (unless and until they got their own building, which they resolutely refused to do.)  They don’t seem to appreciate the lengths Klein went to in catering to their whims – including giving them space inside Tweed.

They also complain of DOE’s failures to follow public process properly.  Incredibly, it seemed that Klein wavered in a meeting w/ Ross and the board --- after the closure had been announced.

Welcome to our world, Courtney Ross – except our public schools are treated much worse!

The full brief is posted here:

Here are excerpts:
Under its agreement with RGA, DOE was to provide a location for the school so that it would have a stable and satisfactory environment in which to educate the children entrusted to its care. Over the past five years, RGA has had to move the school three times and put all of its property (books, files, furniture, artwork, laboratory equipment, supplies, computers, printers, etc.) in storage between these moves, requiring repeated "start-ups" at the beginning of each school year.

This is more than any other charter school in the over ten year history of the establishment of charter schools in New York. These changes in location were though no fault of RCA, but the DOE, making the challenge to perform as a new school that much more difficult. Thus:

(a) DOE first arranged for RCA to share a building with Public School M539,also known as the "Nest School," despite the fact, as DOE well knew, that the Parent-
Teacher Association ("PTA") of that school was violently opposed to sharing space witha charter school. The NEST PTA did, in fact, eventually sue DOE in a CPLR Article 78
proceeding to block the arrangement See latter of Parent Teacher Association of
Public School M539 a/k/a NEST v Klein,Index No. 106363-2006, Sup. Ct., N.Y. County (Lippman, J.).

RGA was subsequently brought into the lawsuit as a necessary party and had to incur legal fees of over $600,000 in a vain effort to open at that location, DOE settled the case by reversing the arrangement and giving RGA alternative space in the basement of its own offices at the Tweed Courthouse, at 52 Chambers Street in
Manhattan — in mid August, resulting in undue and unexpected financial drain and stress on administration and staff that where already consumed with enrolling four new grades
in eight classrooms at one time.

RGA finally opened for its first day of classes on September 6, 2006 after spending substantial money and effort in converting the basement in the Tweed building
to classrooms. It quickly outgrew the space as its student body expanded over the next two years. The only alternative then provided by DOE was to give RCA additional,
separate space in an office building on East 25 ' Street in Manhattan, over twenty blocks away. As of September of 2008, RCA was required to split its school, with Grades K-3remaining at the Tweed building and Grades 6-8 relocated at East 25'  Street. A new RGA principal had to oversee both schools which added expense and created additional pressure on administration and staff.

It was not until the summer of 2009, RCA's fourth year of operation, that DOE finally provided it with a building large enough to accommodate the whole K-8
student body. That building was, however, in total disrepair and had to be renovated within the space of four weeks — at a cost of over $3,500,000, which was paid by the Ross Institute and other donors — to make it ready for classes to begin in September of that year.

The repeated moves to new locations caused tremendous instability for the students, their parents, the teachers, and the administration. In the process, the school lost students, many of whom had to travel long distances by public transit from the five boroughs in which they live, as
well as faculty. It was hard enough to successfully bring a start-up organization into one location.

In addition to the heavy legal costs incurred in the initial litigation and in the repeated physical moves, the Ross Institute, the RGA Board and other donors have willingly paid
for many other costs incurred in operating RCA over the past five years. To date, they have contributed a total of over $8,000,000 in charitable contributions above and beyond the funding
provided by DOE. This remarkable financial contribution, as well as the extraordinary efforts made by the school's founder, its board of directors, its administration and teachers would be lost
if DOE's arbitrary and capricious recommendation not to renew RCA's charter is permitted to stand.

Blindsided by DOE's
silence and its staff's misleading communications with the school's administration, they were notable to do so. There was no fair hearing. There was a total lack of due process.

Late on Friday afternoon, December 3, 2010, at 4:00 p.m., the DOE began a carefully choreographed process designed to announce the closing of RGA and to block any real effort of RGA to respond. A telephone call was placed to RGA's principal to arrange for the DOE staff to meet with her promptly at 9:00 a.m. the following Monday. Another call was
placed at the same time on Friday to the school's founder, Courtney Sale Ross, to arrange for her to receive a "time sensitive" call from the Chancellor the following Monday, also at 9:00 a.m.

Promptly at 9:00 a m, that Monday, DOE staff met with Dr. Cristina Alvarez at the school, and Mark Sternberg, DOE's Vice Chancellor, called Mrs. Ross, the school's founder, both to announce curtly that they were recommending against renewal of the school's charter. . Incredibly, the DOE staff who appeared in Dr. Alvarez's office did not bring any
copy of the DOE Report containing their recommendation. Instead, they brought a pile of notices they wanted the school to put in students' backpacks immediately. These notices were to nform the children's parents that their school was being shut down and that they could attend ameeting that very week to be held at nearby school (not RCA) for information on how to transfertheir children to other schools for the next year. If this occurred, any chance RCA would have to
respond would be mooted by parents' moving their children to other schools, as well as by the
teachers' leaving for positions at other schools.

40. At the same time the DOE staff was meeting with the RCA's principal, and after a brief "head's-up" call from Mr. Sternberg, Chancellor Klein called her to the same effect. Mrs. Ross responded by asking for a copy of the DOE Report and requesting a meeting with the Chancellor and the RCA Board to discuss it. Within an hour, still without providing either the school or Mrs. Ross with a copy of the DOE Report, DOE issued to the press and public an announcement of its recommendation of the closing of a number of public schools and the non-renewal of RCA, the only charter school on the press-announced list. At the same time, someone on the DOE staff leaked information on the closing of RCA by way of an email to a contact at the Community Education Council of District 1 ("CECI") — a local opponent of
charter schools and RCA in particular.

Predictably, reporters and camera crews descended on the school that afternoon to ask the children and parents corning to pick them up how they felt
about the school being closed — their first notification of DOE's decision. Many children were reduced to tears, and their parents were shocked and angry about the way they were told.

41 According to DOE's procedures, it was supposed to have first provided RCA with a "draft report" and give the school "two weeks in which to respond with factual corrections."
Ross Affid., Ex. 4, at 16. Only after that procedure was a final version of the Report to be submitted to the New York State Education Department. Id. Yet again, DOE violated its own procedures. Not only did it fail to provide any draft report, it took action to reduce RCA's ability to respond by making a premature announcement to the press and ultimately to the families of RCA's students that the school was being shut down.

42. Because of the urgency of the situation, arrangements were made for a meeting between Chancellor Klein and his staff and members of RCA's Board, its lawyers, and othermembers of the RCA community. However, again violating DOE's "two week" requirement, Chancellor Klein insisted that RCA submit any written response it wanted by the close of business on Wednesday, December 8th — giving it only two days from the time it was finally given a copy of the Report.

Following a meeting the next day at DOE's offices, during which Chancellor Klein indicated that he had "not yet made a final decision," despite the final nature of the Report, he sent a letter a week later, reissuing the DOE Report with a few corrections of obvious errors and still recommending that RGA be denied the renewal of its charter.

43 In being treated as it was by the DOE staff during the renewal process, RCA suffered a complete lack of due process. Since RCA was plainly entitled to a renewal of its charter by DOE's own declared standards and procedures, the only conclusion one can draw is that DOE, under pressure to close underperforming public schools, decided that it had to close a charter school as well for political reasons.

DOE's Repeated Failures During the Renewal Process

44, Moreover, as indicated above, the DOE failed to comply with its obligations during the renewal application process. The DOE failed to (1) prepare, and provide to RCA, adraft report of its findings based on its renewal charter application; (2) provide RCA with an opportunity to review a draft report, comment on it and suggest conditions that could have led to
approval of its renewal charter application; (3) review any comments on a draft report prior to the DOE's deciding on its recommendation: (4) make a preliminary decision regarding whether
RGA's charter would be renewed prior to any public hearing on such a determination; and (5) request that ROA submit any clarifications to its Prospective renewal application.
45 The DOE treated RGA's application for renewal of its charter disparately when compared to those of other similarly situated charter schools Absent the DOE's disparate treatment, RCA met the substantive guidelines for renewal and, therefore, is entitled to renewal of its charter.

RGA charter school sues city to stop planned closure | GothamSchools:

Argument based in part on flawed school grades

Embattled charter school sues city to stop planned closure

by Maura Walz
A Manhattan charter school in danger of closing is suing the city, arguing that officials violated state law and their own guidelines when they recommended that the state not renew the school’s charter.
In a report sent to the State Board of Regents last month, city officials documented a long list of academic and operational problems at the school. The Regents will vote next week on whether to renew the school’s five-year charter.
Among the complaints in the suit is that the city failed to provide the school with enough time to respond to its recommendation and failed to hold a meaningful hearing on the fate of the school — both included in the city’s guidelines for charter renewal.
Additionally, the charter school argues that it does not meet the legal criteria for not renewing a charter.
The school has struggled for years with questions of student safety and high teacher turnover. This year, the school received the lowest progress report rating of any school in the city. Last year, however, the school received an A, and the school is arguing that state law requires the city to base its recommendation on three years’ worth of academic performance.
City officials publicly announced that they hoped to close the school before they formally told parents or issued their final report, a move the school contends violates the city’s own standards of conduct.
The lawsuit marks the first time a city charter school has challenged a recommendation against its renewal in court, and could set precedent for future charters.
Department of Education officials would not comment today on the suit.

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