As you may know, Vallejo City Unified School District (VCUSD) has sought relief from the court for breach in a lease agreement between it and Mare Island Technology Academy (MITA). MITA is an "independent charter school" which is chartered by VCUSD. For $1.00 a year, VCUSD leases to MITA the land for its main campus, as well as a portion of land between the Omega Boys and Girls Club and Widenmann Elementary School. In return, MITA is bound by the terms stated in the lease agreement. MITA has a responsibility to ensure that terms of the agreement are met. VCUSD, as the chartering agency and landowner, is potentially liable in the event that construction on property owned by the district is not compliant with the law.
VCUSD has confirmed that two years ago, MITA staff met with Mr. Mel Jordan, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services (retired) to review the initial proposal for construction. They were told that they would need to operate within certain parameters. Mr. Jordan requested the construction documentation, and shared in writing that VCUSD board approval would be needed.
On May 25, 2016, when MITA approached VCUSD to discuss potential construction, they were informed that the District was not aware of any such project. As memorialized in a letter from District's counsel, MITA was told that no approval to move forward with such a project had been provided, and VCUSD approval would be necessary prior to the beginning of construction.
Construction and Court
In early June, it was discovered that MIT had begun construction, in spite of VCUSD's communications regarding lack of approval. MITA had cut down seven fully grown trees and demolished VCUSD portables. Shortly thereafter, VCUSD sought a temporary restraining order to halt construction until the appropriate process could be followed.
Review of Process
While proceeding through actions to the court, VCUSD discovered that MITA had not at the time obtained building permits or approved drawings from either the City of Vallejo or Department of State Architects (DSA). MITA staff was reminded that according to the lease agreement, VCUSD would approve the project, once MITA submitted preliminary drawings and assurances that a DSA certified inspector was overseeing the project. Again, VCUSD, as the chartering agency and landowner is potentially liable in the event that construction on property owned by the district is not compliant with the law. VCUSD required assurances that the buildings being constructed on VCUSD property had the necessary approvals to be safely occupied by students. The Superior Court Judge has indicated that MITA has not complied with the approval process from the lease or the necessary steps to ensure safe occupancy of the buildings that it has constructed. He asked the parties to attempt to work out a solution that allows for the MIT students to occupy safe, DSA-approved learning spaces. VCUSD has agreed to assist MITA as they seek to secure DSA approval.
As part of the review, VCUSD has found additional construction that has occurred on MIT's campus than had initially been disclosed. VCUSD discovered that there was construction occurring on the main campus as well, including the installation of a new bathroom on the main campus. No plan per the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) had been certified or approved. To date, there has been no certification or permit that determines that the newly constructed buildings are fully compliant with the Field Act, the applicable building code, the fire code, or ADA. Only through this ongoing review has VCUSD received some drawings and records of inspection from MITA, though no permit or certification for temporary or permanent occupancy has been provided.
Prior to the District seeking injunction, MITA demanded that the District mediate and arbitrate the dispute. VCUSD has sought a provisional remedy from the court in order to ensure that MITA will comply with building and fire codes. Currently, apart from the injunction, the District has not brought any further lawsuit against MITA regarding this dispute. As guided by the property lease agreement between the parties, VCUSD is considering options in light of the breach of the contract. Though VCUSD certainly does not intend to obstruct the education of MITA's students, the District must meet its obligations as the oversight entity. VCUSD's priority is to ensure the safety of all students in the District, including those attending charter schools within its borders.