AUSD

Antioch is currently the scene of a battle of letters between the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) and Antioch Charter Academy (ACA).

In a letter dated Oct. 30, AUSD informed ACA that they had failed to pay their lease rents — also known as pro rata shares — for seven of the past 12 years and had 60 days to correct the breach.

“This is a material failure to comply with the terms of the facility-use agreement they entered into with the district,” said AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello in an email to The Press. “The notice also extends to ACA the opportunity to correct this issue over a period of three years, without interest.”

ACA disagrees with the district’s position. According to Todd Heller, an administrator at ACA, his school entered into a facility-use agreement (FUA) with AUSD in 2007, not a landlord-tenant relationship, which differs greatly. The shares ACA agreed to pay are intended to reimburse the district for the costs it incurs to maintain ACA’s school site and are calculated each year based on the incurred costs. The invoiced amounts during the years from 2007 to 2014 varied between $7,777.20 and $17,759.22 per year, and ACA always relied upon the district to calculate the amount owed. As of Oct. 30, ACA states they had not been billed since 2014, and had not paid any pro rata shares.

AUSD’s letter included amounts owed for the past few years, as well as new amounts owed for the years from 2007 to 2014, for which ACA had already paid. The amounts owed each year varied between $80,000 and $125,000 — an increase from previous invoices.

Anello confirmed this week the new amount owed by ACA totals $1,140,837.26.

“It now seems the district is attempting to unwind a material term of the FUA in asserting it wants to go back more than a decade and change the manner in which it calculates the facilities fees owed by ACA,” Heller said in an email to The Press. “The district is trying to apply the pro rata share formula as if we were occupying a shared district site where we didn’t already pay for any of the facilities costs for the site.”

Since the district’s initial letter, ACA has calculated the amounts due for the past four years and the first quarter of the current year as $34,392.35 and sent a check in that amount to the district, which was accepted. The calculations included a cost of living adjustment.

While the district admits there were years when no invoices or incorrect invoices were issued, despite repeated requests from ACA, Anello said that did not excuse the academy from paying their fees.

“There is no provision in the agreement requiring the district to issue an invoice before ACA is obligated to pay,” Anello said. “The fact that the district did not issue invoices in seven of the last 12 years does not excuse ACA from their obligations under the binding agreement they entered into with the district.”

Chris Gargaro’s three children attend ACA, where they and many other students benefit from a Montessori approach to education and show higher test scores than those exhibited by AUSD students. Gargaro fears this will become a ‘David and Goliath’ situation if the case goes to court, citing the district’s deeper pockets.

“I think it is awful on many levels that AUSD is trying to close the doors of this unique and high-performing school,” Gargaro said. “I think AUSD should be trying to learn from ACA successes, not putting energy into suddenly closing it down.”

Gargaro is a special education teacher in Martinez. He said suddenly changing the setting of ACA students with individualized education plans (IEPs) could be extremely damaging, and a violation of federal laws put in place to protect these types of students.

“Our students with special needs rights need to be protected,” he added.

At this point, Heller said he is hopeful the issue can be resolved, possibly through mediation. Anello expressed similar sentiments, saying the district was committed to working with the charter school to come to an amicable conclusion.

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