Petition, Budget & School Design
In this phase, teams focus on writing and revising their petition and building a relationship with the authorizer. This phase culminates with the submission of the petition.
The 15+ Elements of a Charter Petition
The petition is the central document to establishing a charter. The charter petition outlines the key information on the proposed educational program, student outcomes and assessments, operations, governance, policies, and how the school will meet legal requirements. The specific 16 requirements for this document are outlined by California Education Code Section 47605. Before you start writing your charter petition, it is important to understand both the depth and breath of information that is required in each of these sections.
Local and New Requirements
In addition to the education code, authorizers often have their own expectations, rubrics, or policies in regards to the petition. These guidelines might require specific language, petition structure, agreement to specific district policies, or additional sections or information. Over the last few years, authorizers have required more detail in the petition and supporting documents. Developers who are using outdated or unaligned models will run into problems.
Understanding the local context and expectation is critical to a successful authorizing process. Make sure you do the research before you start to write!
It is also important to note that as of the fall of 2013, new language is now required in the petition specifically addressing the requirements of Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Work with your CCSA School Development representative to understand and address all of the required elements of your charter petition.
Here are some resources to support you:
- Sample Petition Language for Special Education
- Recommended Language and User Guidelines to Ensure LCFF Compliance in New and Renewing Petitions
Sample petitions that have been recently approved are also a great way to see how other teams have addressed the requirements. Contact your CCSA School Development representative for recent samples from your region.
The 15 Elements Outlined in Education Code
California Education Code Section 47605 requires developers to provide a "reasonably comprehensive description" of:
(A) The educational program, including descriptions of the students to be served, "educated person" in the 21st century, how learning best occurs, annual school goals to achieve state and school priorities, and supporting school actions to achieve school goals.
(B) Measurable pupil outcomes, including the extent to which all pupils demonstrate that they have attained the skills, knowledge, and attitudes specified as goals for schoolwide and subgroups and as aligned to state and school priorities.
(C) Method for measuring outcomes, aligned to state priorities and consistent with the way information is reported on a school accountability report card.
(D) Governance structure, including, but not limited to, the process to be followed by the school to ensure parental involvement.
(E) Employee qualifications.
(F) Health and safety procedures, including criminal background checks.
(G) Means to achieve racial and ethnic balance reflective of the general population of the school district.
(H) Admissions requirements.
(I) Annual financial audit processes, including exceptions and deficiencies resolutions.
(J) Suspension and expulsion policies.
(K) Employee benefits, specifically how/if employees will be covered by STRS and PERS, or social security.
(L) Attendance alternatives.
(M) Return rights of employees.
(N) Dispute resolution procedures, specifically between the district and the charter.
(O) Procedures for closing, including final audit, plans for disposing of any net assets and for the maintenance and transfer of pupil records.
Additional Required Information
Most districts and the State Board of Education require additional information, including:
- Budget and cash flow projections, including start-up costs, three-year operational budget and three years of cash flow statements
- Legal assurances
- Description of founding team
- Facilities plan
- Potential impact on the authorizer
- Administrative Services
The petition is required to be signed by a minimum number of parents or teachers. Learn more on the "Signatures" tab of this section.
Charter Petition Budget
4 Must-Haves for the Petition Budget
Your financial plan, which is the set of budget documents that go in your petition, should be developed alongside the petition. After all, it is likely that you will need to revise your educational plans as you discover how certain elements affect your budget, and vice versa. The financial plan should include the sections listed below:
- First-year operational budget, including start-up costs.
- Planning budget for 3-5 years (3 is the minimum legal requirement; we recommend 5).
- Monthly cash flow statement for 3 years.
- Budget narrative explaining why you are including various revenue sources, the basis or source for each expenditure estimate, and anything else in your budget that is likely to raise questions for your audience (such as salaries and benefits that differ from your district's).
In order to get authorized successfully, it is critical that these documents are aligned to your petition. For example, if your petition mentions that you will have a resource teacher on staff, salary and benefits for a resource teacher should appear in the budget.
The Best Budgets Demonstrate Success in the Worst-Case Scenario
It is challenging to make a budget balance on federal and state revenues alone, especially when you want to give your students the best possible resources. There are also lots of potential funding sources, many of which will not come through until after the petition is approved. Therefore, it is understandable that many teams want to build a budget that includes these potential, but unsecured, sources of revenue.
However, authorizers (the district, county, or state that will grant your charter) expect to see evidence that even if the worst happens, and you do not receive the funding you hoped you would, your school will still be able operate. In their review of the budget, they will sometimes strike out unsecured funding and evaluate whether or not the budget balances without it. The challenge before your team is to create a conservative budget that demonstrates that even under the worst-case scenarios, your school will operate successfully. If you do receive the funding you hoped you would, you can revise your budget to reflect it.
These line items are important to note as you build a conservative budget for your petition:
- Public Charter School Grant Program Planning and Implementation Grant: Unfortunately, in October 2015 we learned that the state of California was not successful in securing funding for this program beyond the 2010-2015 grant cycle. Developers planning to open in 2016 or beyond should not include PCSGP funds in the petition budget. 2016 openers, specifically, may be eligible to apply for funds leftover from the previous grant cycle, and should stay in contact with CCSA for updates regarding eligibility, timelines and restrictions. The state of California can apply for the next cycle of PCSGP funds in 2018. Until then, CCSA is aggressively seeking other options to help fund charter growth throughout the state.
- Revolving Loan: If you include this loan, note a back-up option. This loan will not be secured until after approval.
- Fundraising: Fundraising from individuals or foundations should only be included if you also include letters that show the funder is committed and able to provide the amount shown in the budget. Any other fundraising should be included at very conservative levels.
- Enrollment: If you include a range for enrollment in your petition, be intentional about the numbers you include in your budget. Lower numbers are more conservative, and can signal that even if you don't meet your ambitious enrollment targets, you will still be able to operate.
For a Defensible Budget, Get Help from Experts
The budget is one of the most heavily scrutinized sections of the petition. If you don't have someone on your team who has experience in charter school budgeting, get help from experts.
"Back office providers" can help you with both creating your budget and handling finances when the school is operational. Strong back office providers track changes at the state and federal levels that might impact how much funding you receive and when you receive it. They also work on charter school budgets full time, so they know the ins and outs of various revenue sources and expenses. Having a back office provider may inspire more confidence in your operations during your early years, and in some cases, they will come to your authorization meetings to help with questions as they arise.
Before you begin working with a back office provider, compare costs and services of various providers. CCSA maintains a list of several back office providers. Once you have selected a provider, designate a team point person to work with the provider, establish clear channels for communication, and make your expectations clear.
What You Need to Know About Facilities Planning
A facility that meets your needs is vital to your school's ability to operate effectively. In order to create a strong facilities plan, your team needs to understand five critical topics related to facilities planning.
- Your facilities needs: How many square feet of classroom, office, recreational, and other space will your school require? This information is critical in order to search for a facility that will meet your needs. To better understand your needs, use the Needs Assessment in CCSA's Facilities Handbook. Keep in mind that what you need and can afford in your first year may differ from what you will need and be able to afford in five or ten years, as explained in the Facilities Lifecycle section.
- Facilities options: Charter schools have a number of facilities options. Understanding all of these options is critical to being able to select the best solution for your school. One common option is Proposition 39 (Prop. 39), which requires school districts to make "reasonably equivalent" facilities available to charter schools upon request. Learn more about Prop. 39 eligibility, costs, and how to make a request in CCSA's Prop. 39 Overview and Preparing Your School's Request for Facilities Under Prop. 39, which also outlines how CCSA can offer support to members with their Prop. 39 requests.
- Facilities financing options: In addition to a number of space options, there are a number of ways to finance your facility. Learn about financing a facility privately and financing a facility publicly. Also review the list of facilities funding sources in the California Charter Schools Financial Management Guide. Find out if your school is eligible for The Charter School Facilities Grant Program (SB 740), which provides funding assistance to charter schools for rent and lease expenditures that meet specific eligibility criteria.
- Legal requirements: Zoning requirements, local regulations, and occupancy requirements all affect your ability to locate on a given site.
- How to find a facility: The process of finding a new school facility has several stages, including finding a potential site, conducting research (often referred to as "due diligence") to determine if the property will work for school use, obtaining zoning and land use approval from the city or county, obtaining approval for and then completing renovations, and finally obtaining the certificate of occupancy. This process is explained further in CCSA's Facilities Handbook. Finding a facility can also be made easier by working with vendors who understand and have experience with charters. CCSA maintains a list of vendors who may be able to help. If you are looking for a public facility, CCSA's Maps for School Developers may also be helpful.
What Goes in the Petition?
The petition must include a description of your facilities plan. Here's what to include in your description to demonstrate that you will have a safe, compliant facility by the first day of school:
- Description of needs: Include the number of square feet of classroom, office, recreational, and other space your school will need. If you have any location requirements, indicate these as well.
- Available facilities: Provide evidence that there are facilities available in your target location, either by listing potential sites and/or indicating that the team has worked with commercial real estate agents.
- Back-up plan: Your top facilities choice may not work out for a variety of reasons. Demonstrate that this would not prevent your school from being successful by including both your top choice facilities option as well as a back-up plan.
- Financially feasible options: Ensure that your budget reflects the facilities option you present. For example, if you intend to occupy a Prop. 39 facility, include the going pro rata share in your budget. Also account for costs for securing, permitting, and remodeling your facility. Ideally, you would also provide evidence that even your Plan B works within your budget.
- Evidence that you understand the process and timelines: Include assurances that you will meet local codes. Demonstrate an understanding of the permit process. Show that you have accounted for the timelines for permitting, zoning, and necessary build outs.
The successful adoption of a charter school petition begins long before the votes are cast by an authorizing board. It is critical that charter teams begin advocating for their petition prior to ever submitting. A charter team with an active, engaged and organized base of community support will have the greatest chances of success when the petition is finally reviewed and voted upon.
Pre-Requisites for Success in Authorization
- Strong petition: The charter petition document is what you are asking the authorizing school board to approve. The charter petition must be a strong document, compliant with the law and demonstrating that the school is likely to be successful. CCSA Developer Members who take advantage of a full review of the charter petition by the School Development & Support team and submit petitions that incorporate CCSA feedback, meet minimum requirements, and address any authorizer-specific best practices are eligible for CCSA's public advocacy support through authorization. Learn more about how to craft a strong petition and CCSA's policy on support of new petitions.
- Team with track record of success: Even if you have never started a charter school before it is still extremely important that those involved with opening your school have a track record of success both individually and as a team. Learn more about building a strong team.
- Realistic timeline: A realistic timeline is one that allows you to take advantage of facilities and funding opportunities such as PCSGP and Prop. 39, and to appeal if your petition is denied. Learn more about the timeline.
- Engaged community of supporters: An engaged community of supporters is critical to persuade the school board to support your school, and to demonstrate that there is need and demand for your school. Learn more about creating an initial outreach plan.
Meet with Your Authorizer Pre-Submission
As outlined in the overview, meeting with the authorizer before you submit creates an opportunity to build a rapport with officials in your school district and board members. This will enable you to better understand their perspective, policies and practices. This information can help you to improve your petition and anticipate any roadblocks.
Keep in mind that first impressions matter. When you first meet with your authorizer, have a copy of your Executive Summary ready, be sure that you have a strong understanding of the process, and ensure you are able to confidently address questions about your plan.
During these meetings, you may need to balance a tone of collaboration with maintaining your vision. Having a strong plan and understanding of the process in advance of this meeting will help you understand where exactly you can be flexible. Learn more about how to work effectively with your authorizer.
Note regarding signature gathering: Do not have parents or teachers sign the petition until the petition has been completed. For an in-depth discussion about the signature gathering process, see the Signatures tab of this section.
Revisit Your Community Outreach Strategy
You have already engaged the community, now it is time to activate the community: In "Building the Foundation" you learned about the need for crafting an ongoing community outreach strategy. As you work to complete your petition and are preparing for submission it is important to revisit your community outreach strategy to determine what has been working and what has not. What themes or messages have resonated with the community? What messaging yielded the most response or support? Are there current news stories or local events that are competing for the attention of your community and the attention of your authorizing board? Has there been opposition to your effort? Are there myths about charter schools that need to be dispelled? During this stage of development you are reaching out to supporters, potential students, parents, teachers, community leaders, etc. and shifting them from simply being aware of your school to getting involved.
Parents represent the key demographic of the community that you are trying to serve. Parents are the guardians of their children's education, safety and growth.
As you have progressed in your effort to develop your charter petition and start a charter school you have probably already encountered motivated and dedicated parents. Some of them may even be part of your school development team. It is critical to develop strategies for meaningfully engaging these parents in the development of the charter school and the petition. As you continue to carry out your communications plan to reach more parents and families, having a defined strategy and system for including them in the ongoing work of the school will be important.
Strategies for Parent Engagement:
- Create a system for identifying and assessing the skill sets of engaged parents
- Invite parents to participate in activities or tasks that align with their skills sets
- Create committees with clearly defined roles and goals that parents can serve on
- Identify parents that would enhance the effort by serving on the development team
- Identify a parent or parents that would be good candidates for your governing board
- Encourage parents to organize volunteer efforts and be liaisons with other parents and families
- Encourage parents to support outreach efforts through word of mouth, hosting community and household gatherings about the school, parent information nights, etc.
- Encourage parents to write letters to elected officials, blog about their interest in the school, and spread the word on social media
- Prepare parents to attend and speak at public hearings
- Empower parents to gather signatures of support on the charter petition*
- Ask parents to express their support by signing the petition*
Parents who have been included and who are vested in the development of the petition, the school culture and community will continue to be active and involved advocates of the charter petition and the school.
For more information on why families choose charter schools and ways in which parents and families can get involved, visit the CCSA Families website.
Teachers are another group that have enormous advocacy impacts. Teachers who desire to work in charter schools do so because of their desire to have the greatest amount of involvement, freedom and accountability for the achievement of their students. Having teachers involved in your advocacy efforts will not only provide legitimacy, but may help allay parent and board member concerns about the quality of a new educational effort. Not all teachers understand the power and influence that they possess. Many see the classroom as their universe and have never considered that anyone outside of the classroom would be interested in hearing what they have to say or how they feel. Plugging into your teacher support and creating avenues in which they can express their love of teaching and the importance of approving your petition will be key to moving your petition closer to success.
Ways Teachers Can Be Engaged in the School Development Process:
- Development of educational model
- Development of curriculum
- Crafting or reviewing the educational elements of the petition
- Developing messaging
- Helping to identify the items, supplies, tools necessary as you prepare the budget
- Participating in Parent Information Nights
- Developing sample curriculum for presentations
- Teacher and family recruitment
- Attendance and Speaking at public hearings
- Signing in support of the petition*
Signatures for the Charter Petition
Number of Signatures Necessary
According to charter law, the petition must be signed by a minimum number of parents or teachers. The requirements are different for start-up charter schools and conversion charter schools.
For start-up charter schools, the petition must be signed by "a number of parents or legal guardians of pupils that is equivalent to at least one-half of the number of pupils that the charter school estimates will enroll in the school for its first year of operation" or "a number of teachers that is equivalent to at least one-half of the number of teachers that the charter school estimates will be employed at the school during its first year of operation."
For conversion charter schools, the petition must be "signed by not less than 50 percent of the permanent status teachers currently employed at the public school to be converted" Education Code § 47605.
People Who Sign Must Be "Meaningfully Interested"
Parents who sign the petition must be "meaningfully interested" in attending the school and teachers who sign must be "meaningfully interested" in teaching at the school Education Code § 47605. In some cases, districts have interpreted this to mean that the children of parents who sign the petition must be the appropriate age to be able to attend the school and that teachers must be appropriately credentialed to be eligible to teach at the school. Districts have been known to contact parents and teachers to verify their interest in the school, and to look up teachers to verify that they hold the appropriate credentials.
When to Start Collecting Signatures
Parents must be able to read the petition when they sign it, so you should collect signatures after it is complete. If you are interacting with people who might sign before the petition is ready, gather their contact information so that you can connect with them quickly once it is ready.
If you are serving a community where multiple languages are spoken, it is a best practice to have your petition available in the languages commonly spoken in your community.
Collecting Signatures for the Petition and for Prop. 39
If you are applying for Prop. 39, you will need to collect parent signatures. If you are submitting your petition around the time that you are applying for Prop. 39 and decide to use parent signatures for your petition, you may be able to use the same form for both purposes. Ensure that the form shows the students' names, addresses, grade level during the year for which the charter school is requesting facilities, and a signature indicating the families' meaningful interest in attending the school. If you are gathering signatures for approval of the charter petition submission, as well as for a Prop 39 application, you should communicate this intent on the signature form(s).
It is important to note that some school districts require applicants to use specific forms when applying for Prop 39. Make sure that you check to see what information the school district requires before gathering signatures.
CCSA offers three signature collection templates:
Submitting Your Petition
Are You Ready to Submit?
Submitting your petition is a significant step towards opening a public charter school. It is important that you understand that once you submit, you cannot make substantive revisions to your petition. You get one chance to make a good first impression, and it can be difficult to overcome submitting an incomplete document, or before your team is prepared. Before you submit, we strongly recommend:
- A full review of your petition by CCSA's School Development Team and your attorneys for state and local compliance.
- Make sure your founding board is in place, and has the capacity to provide governance and operational oversight over your first few years.
- Have community support in place to support you through authorization.
See our timeline for more information.
Timelines for Submission
No matter where you are across the state, there are a few guiding timelines to consider when submitting your petition. These dictate funding, facilities, and should leave you enough time to appeal an unfavorable decision. Keep in mind that an ideal time to submit is often 1 to 1.5 years in advance of when you intend to open your school. You want to create a timeline that allows enough time to appeal the decision if you are denied by your local school district, and to have sufficient time for start-up activities. Work with your CCSA School Development Representative to identify a realistic timeline for your team.
Factors to consider include:
- Authorizer Preferences: Charter authorizers frequently have their own preferences for charter petition submission. Contact your authorizer directly to better understand their preferences for submission timing and format.
- Deadlines for Programs for Which You Intend to Apply: Although California Education Code 47605 does not specify deadlines for petition submission, there are deadlines affecting petition submission for critical programs such as the Public Charter School Grant Program (PCSGP) and Proposition 39. You need to be aware of the deadlines for these programs and the requirements for eligibility before you submit your petition.
- Timelines for Approval: Timelines for charter approval are explained in Education Code Section 47605. Once you have submitted your petition, the district is required to hold a public hearing within 30 days. Before you are granted a decision, you may be called in for a capacity hearing with your authorizer. The authorizer is required to make a decision within 60 days of submission, unless you agree to an additional 30-day extension. Specific district timelines and procedures can vary; connect directly with your potential authorizer to learn more about their policies and procedures.
- Timelines for Appeals: There are five legal reasons for which which an authorizer can deny a charter petition. If your petition was wrongfully denied, you can appeal that decision. Appealing will extend the time it takes for your school to get approved, so it is important that you plan ahead if this may be necessary in your case.
- Planning or Start-Up Year: Does your team want a "planning year" to get ready to open? Regardless, you'll want to be sure your timeline allows you to have sufficient time to recruit students, set up your facility, and hire and develop a school leader and staff.
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