Charter school awarded $7.1 million in case against LAUSD

The Los Angeles Unified School District must pay $7.1 million to a San Fernando Valley charter school for failing to provide the school with rent-free classroom space, a violation of state law.

School districts are required to share classrooms and other facilities with charter schools but, for three years starting in 2007, Ivy Academia Entrepreneurial Charter did not get enough space for its 1,100 students.

The district’s approval of the charter required arbitration of legal disputes.

In his written ruling, arbitrator John Zebrowski said that the district’s failure to comply with the law harmed children attending the charter during those years because it forced the school to use some money intended for educational programs to lease a building. Zebrowski said students were further harmed because the building leased by the charter was inferior to what it would have received from L.A. Unified.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run.

Ivy Academia spent $3 million on rent and other costs from 2007-10, but the arbitrator said L.A. Unified should be on the hook for more money because he believed the property denied to the charter had a higher value. The district must also pay the charter $650,000 in attorneys' fees.

“Ivy was forced to cobble together multiple private facilities that were inferior and didn’t have things like playing fields, libraries, permanent science labs, and enough special education space,” Paul Minney, an attorney for the charter school, said in a statement.

L.A. Unified acknowledged that it did not provide Ivy Academia the space it is entitled to under Proposition 39, which requires districts to offer charters facilities that are reasonably equivalent to those provided to students in traditional public schools.

David Huff, an attorney representing the school district, said L.A. Unified simply didn’t have the space during the years that it did not comply.

Huff also pointed to a criminal case that in April 2013 found two of Ivy Academia’s leaders guilty of misuse of public funds

According to prosecutors in that case, Yevgeny “Eugene” Selivanov negotiated the 10-year lease of a building for $18,390 a month but then charged the school $43,870 a month to sublease the property.

“It is the district’s theory that had we made a compliant offer of space. . .  Ivy would have never accepted because it would have ended their $25,000 a month profit,” Huff said.

But the arbitrator said the district could not prove that the charter would have rejected such an offer.

In the end, neither side can claim a full victory.

Ivy had asked for $24 million from the district, while L.A. Unified argued that the charter school was not entitled to receive any money under the law.

The district can challenge the award in Los Angeles Superior Court.

zahira.torres@latimes.com

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