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Palm Beach County School District doesn't have to share referendum money with charter schools

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-23 23:44:17-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — UPDATE: A Judge ruled that the Palm Beach County School District doesn't have to share referendum money with charter schools.

The judge granted the school board's motion for summary judgment in the lawsuits brought by charter schools challenging the 2018 referendum, said the School Board of Palm Beach County in a news release.

The schools are: Academy for Positive Learning, Inc., Palm Beach Maritime Museum and G-Star School of the Arts.

EARLIER STORY:

As the battle over whether lawmakers can force the Palm Beach County School District to share money with charter schools plays out in the state Legislature and in local rallies, that same battle has been playing out in county court.

It's costing you, the taxpayers, money.

In November, 72 percent of Palm Beach County voters voted to raise their property taxes, giving the school district an extra $200 million a year for things like school safety, mental health, and teacher raises.

"We had a ballot referendum with language that was not ambiguous. It was very clear," said school board member Karen Brill.

The referendum did not include charter schools.

In January, two of the county's charter schools sued, saying they're entitled to 10 percent. Some parents joined the lawsuit as well.

"These kids are public school kids. They have a right to have the same safety as any other child that goes to a public school," said Renata Espinoza, the founder of Academy for Positive Learning.

To fight the charter's lawsuit, the district hired the law firm of Boies, Schiller, and Flexner. Their lawyers have represented Harvey Weinstein and Jeff Bezos.

A $250,000 retainer alone. The district signed the agreement in February. Taxpayer money used to fight sharing taxpayer money.

"I don’t know how much I can comment because it is a lawsuit at this time. Clearly the public has already spoken. They’ve already spoken their support," said Brill. "I have not had any push back from my constituents in terms of what we’re doing. The problem they have with us funding charter schools is accountability."

"Instead of spending money on attorneys, on politics, they should start looking and analyzing how we are going to distribute the money accordingly and what's right for everybody," said Espinoza.

The argument in court is whether the referendum language was legal. The charter schools said the Florida Legislature "has made clear its intentions that public charter schools be funded the same as traditional public schools."

But the school board said they received a legal opinion before putting the referendum on the ballot, saying they were allowed to exclude charter schools. Their lawyers said in a court filing that the charter schools' "claims arise from an erroneous interpretation of the Florida statutes."

The current fight against the state is whether the Legislature should be allowed to over turn the will of the voters. If they do, Brill said the fight shouldn't stop.

"I will tell you from my personal perspective and this is me speaking as an individual, we should be suing, on behalf of the voters. Because it is not legal to take a vote, have the voters make a decision, and over turn it," said Brill.

The House has already pushed ahead with a bill that would make the district share funds with charter schools, about $20 million. The Senate was supposed to discuss the measure Wednesday, but the discussion was delayed until Thursday.