Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take Care in Turning Down Charter School

A couple of stories in the Trib and the Daily Herald in last couple of days about Alpine considering a permit for a charter school in their community caught my eye, particularly since I have been so involved in putting together presentations in the last week for a couple of planning & zoning workshops. The issue seems to revolve around a common problem -- what can reasonably be done in an administrative action (vs. a legislative one). Clearly, most residents, and even planning commissioners and councilmembers don't understand the distinction.

According to the Herald, the Planning Commission earlier this week considered and then turned down a site plan application for a charter school. I don't know what Alpine's ordinance requires, but public and charter schools, under state law, are permitted uses in all zones in a city or county. So really the only way to turn one down is to find some really egregious problem that they may create or that may be a danger for them.

Lots of public comment was given in the meeting in opposition to the school, most of it probably "public clamor;" in other words, a lot of opinion with no real evidence presented. In an adminstrative actions, decisions must be based on substantial evidence, not on simply supposition or opinion. Some factual basis for approving or denying an application must be given. As is common in meetings like this, it sounds like a lot of opinion was given, but not much in the way of facts. The stories do not say what information was given by staff about the application.

It looks like the denial was based at least in part something one of the planning commissioners quoted from the state code: "the school site shall not be located in an area where there is a history or high possibility of flooding." That could indeed be a requirement that could be the basis for turning down an application.

I have, however, been looking high and low in the state code for this statement, and have been unable to find it. Does anyone know where this is to be found? If it is not there, I fear that Alpine may be skating on thin ice with regard to their denial of the application.

Once again, we need to make sure our planning commissioner and elected officials clearly understand what they can and can't do in administrative actions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


At 4:59 PM, Blogger ARCritic said...

I emailed Commissioner Watkins and he kindly responded with this link:

Secifically, R392-200-2(A)(2)

I did read further down the following, which I expected. So I don't know that a planning commission could rely upon this to deny a site plan. I would think that they might be able to request a letter from the director, as defined, that indicates the reservations of the Commission have been looked at and in the opinion of the director it is OK. What do you think Wilf?

E. Enforcement

1. The Director and local health officer are charged with the enforcement of the provisions of this rule.

2. The provisions of this rule shall not prevent any city, county, or city and county health department or district from adopting and enforcing standards of sanitation, health, safety, and hygiene for schools more strict than those contained in this rule.

3. Primary enforcement of this rule shall be the responsibility of the local health department. The Director shall periodically review and determine the adequacy of enforcement by local health departments and cooperate with and provide assistance to local health departments if he determines enforcement by a local health department is inadequate.

4. The Director or the local health officer may, if he determines a serious health hazard exists, order closed all or part of a school.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Wilf said...

Thanks, Arcritic, for your homework and the reference to the rule. I looked it up, and it is an administrative rule, not state code. However, what force such a rule has in a local proceeding is something I'm not prepared to say. But it's interesting to see where it came from.

As before, it will be VERY interesting to see how this all plays out. I have heard through the grapevine that support among some legislators is now building to change some things back in the state code with regard to charter schools. As always, the winds of politics are blowing, we just have to figure out from which direction.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger ARCritic said...

I thought there was a bill passed that put a limit on the number of charter school applications that can be approved over the next 1-2 years while the legislature looks over the charter rules. That I would think would be the rumbling you might have heard.

You do know that there are some legislators that are involved in charter schools. They have been able to pass some things which have given charter schools lots of help.

Also, the articles you linked to didn't mention it but I am sure I read an article about that school in Alpine which indicated that the mayor's wife and I believe either a council member or a council member's wife is involved in that charter school as well. That might be why the supporters think they have a better shot with the city council. But the critics probably think the unanimous decision from the planning commission is in their favor.

It will be interesting. I thought it was very interesting that the quoted rule comes from rules for the Health Department not the School Board.



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