Pa. Commonwealth Court panel affirms charter school board's dismissal of school's appeal

By Jon Campisi | Mar 8, 2013

A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has affirmed a decision by

the Charter School Appeals Board to dismiss an appeal by a Philadelphia charter school for lack of jurisdiction.

The case involved a petition by Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School to renew its charter, which was first issued in 1997, and later renewed in 2001 and 2006 respectively.

The school’s charter was again set to expire on June 30, 2011, the record shows, and so school leaders filed an application with Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission to once again renew the charter.

In mid-February 2011, the SRC voted 2-1 to renew the charter, court papers state, but the commission later determined that the vote didn’t constitute an action in favor of renewal because it contended that a majority vote of all five commissioners was required for passage.

The problem – one commissioner had abstained from the vote while another seat remained vacant.

The charter school disagreed with the SRC’s assertion, arguing that only a majority vote of a quorum of those present at the meeting at the time was required in order for the charter’s renewal.

The SRC once again voted on the same resolution a second time in late April 2011, with the vote again resulting in 2-1 in favor of renewal.

The commission took the same position as it had prior, although it informed the charter school it could remain open regardless of whether or not the renewal was granted by June, and also that it could operate through any appeals that may result.

On June 3, 2011, the record shows, the school filed an appeal with the Charter School Appeal Board, arguing that the board has jurisdiction to determine whether the school’s renewal application should be granted based upon the SRC’s failure to renew or deny the charter by June 30, 2011.

The SRC, however, sought to quash the motion, arguing that the charter board lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal.

The commission had argued that the board only has jurisdiction in cases involving charter denials and revocations, not “non-actions.”

The board dismissed the school’s appeal on July 12 of last year for lack of jurisdiction.

On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the school argued that the board erred in concluding that it lacked the authority to order the SRC to renew the school’s charter upon finding that the commission’s votes constituted approval of the school’s renewal application, among other errs.

In its decision, the Commonwealth Court panel wrote that in the absence of formal action renewing or not renewing a charter, the court concludes that a charter school can continue functioning as if the charter were still in effect.

The appeals judges also wrote that they agreed with the SRC that no final decision has been issued with regard to the charter renewal and that the matter remains pending before the commission.

As a result, the ruling states, the charter board appropriately determined that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the matter because its jurisdiction is limited to “review of a decision not to renew or revoke a charter.”

The decision was written by Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson. The other participating judges were Patricia A. McCullough and Anne E. Covey.

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