District settles lawsuit, agrees to share parcel tax with charters

Credit: EdSourceCredit: EdSourceThe West Contra Costa Unified School District has agreed to share parcel tax revenue with charter schools located in the district under the terms of a lawsuit settlement announced Thursday.
The California Charter Schools Association, which brought the lawsuit, said the agreement should send a message to other districts that have a parcel tax or are considering putting one on the ballot this year: Give charter schools a fair share to avoid possible litigation and do what’s right for kids.
“We are pleased that the district has agreed to terms that will ensure that all public school students are eligible for their fair share of funding in the spirit intended, and as voters mandated” when they passed the parcel tax, said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the charter schools association.
The lawsuit was the first that the charter schools association had brought over a parcel tax, which 124 districts in the state – about 1 in 8 – have passed at some point, according to a 2013 EdSource report. A parcel tax, a uniform tax on individual properties, is one of the few sources of revenue that districts can raise on their own. Often temporary, it requires two-thirds voter approval to pass and renew.
RelatedCharter schools’ $100,000 opposition helps sink district’s bond measureMost schools districts have not shared parcel tax money with charter schools – Oakland, San Francisco and Livermore Valley are among the exceptions – and voters in West Contra Costa County didn’t either when they approved Measure G in 2012 with 75 percent support. Charter school students comprise about 8 percent of enrollment in the district, according to the charter schools association.
In its 2014 lawsuit, the association charged that their exclusion denied charter school students an equal opportunity to a quality education. It also noted that charters in the district served larger proportions of low-income children, African-American and Hispanic youths than district schools.
After lengthy negotiations, Wallace said, the charters agreed to accept half of the per-student money going to district schools under the current parcel tax, starting this year through 2018-19, when it will expire. The school board agreed to share 100 percent of the per-student revenue in future taxes, and to adopt a policy supporting this, Wallace said. All 11 charters in the district signed off on the settlement, Wallace said.

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Adopted in 2012, Measure G taxes property owners at 7.2 cents per building square foot or $7.20 per empty parcel. It brought in $9.7 million in 2014-15, according to the charter school association, which works out to $310 per student. At the reduced rate, the charters will receive $1.625 million in the remaining years of the tax. Only students who live in the district and attend in-district charters will be counted for money.
In a statement, West Contra Costa Unified spokesman Marcus Walton said the district was pleased it could resolve the lawsuit. “The parcel tax is an important resource for the students of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. It has helped reduce class sizes, maintained our libraries and ensured that our students had access to counseling and safe schools. We are glad that we were able to come to an equitable outcome that will benefit all public school students in West Contra Costa County,” he wrote said.
Wallace said the lawsuit demanded that charters receive their full share of revenue dating to the passage of the tax, but agreed to a “reasonable compromise,” recognizing that the district had made commitments for the money. “We were trying to strike a balance between agreeing to something manageable for the district and insisting on equity for charters now and long-term,” he said.
Some districts are currently considering if  they will place a parcel tax on the November ballot, so now is the right time for school boards to commit to share parcel tax revenue with charter school students, said Wallace, who threatened additional lawsuits if charters are excluded.
The association’s non-tax exempt political arm, the  California Charter Schools Association Advocates Issues Committee, had previously tangled with the West Contra Costa Unified district on a related issue – its failure to include charter schools in its $270 million school construction bond in 2014. The $100,000 that the political committee spent to oppose the bond helped defeat it.
In January, the charter schools association sued Los Angeles Unified, charging that it has withheld $450 million in construction money from a 2008 construction bond that the district promised – in public forums and court documents – would go to charters.
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