Judge upholds revocation of Tyler school's charter
POSTED: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 3:55pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - 11:40am
says decision not unreasonable
(KETK) — A Texas judge upheld the revocation of an East Texas school's charter Tuesday morning.
According to court documents, Administrative Law Judge William G. Newchurch signed an order upholding Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams' decision to revoke Azleway Charter School's charter. The school is located at 15892 County Road 26 in Tyler.
The decision was made after Azleway Charter School failed to meet its academic or financial accountability performance ratings for three consecutive years.
- 2010-2011 academic performance rating of "AEA: Academically Unacceptable"
- 2011-2012 financial accountability performance rating of "Substandard Achievement"
- 2012-2013 financial accountability performance rating of "Substandard Achievement"
Azleway offered evidence arguing the ratings were incorrect, therefore the revocation of the charter was wrong. The TEA then objected to the evidence. Judge Newchurch ultimately determined it was not within his scope to review whether the ratings were incorrect and the challenge was deemed irrelevant in this case.
The judge also determined there was no evidence the commissioner's decision to revoke Azelway's charter was inconsistent with the way others schools were treated in the past and that the revocation was not unreasonable.
The school's superintendent, Steve Lenz, posted a statement addressed to the community last school year in response to the revocation order. The document is an attached file at the bottom of this story.
According to a TEA official, the school can still operate as a private school, but after Tuesday, they will receive no more state funding and they must return all property purchased with state funding.
On December 18, 2013, Commissioner Williams identified Azleway as one of six schools up for revocation and notified the school, in accordance with Senate Bill 2.
On January 15, 2014, Azleway requested an information review of the decision. Approximately two weeks later, the TEA conducted an informal review and recommended the revocation proceed, and on February 6, the state gave notice to Azleway that the revocation would move forward.
On April 29, 2014, Newchurch oversaw a hearing with the TEA attorney and Azleway attorney. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge approved a scheduled for filing written closing arguments and replies.
On May 2, 2014, however, the Travis County District Court Judge Orlinda Naranjo issued a temporary injunction in a declaratory judgment action brought by another charter holder facing revocation and in which Azleway had intervened. The district court enjoined TEA, its agents, employees, contractors, and conservator from taking further action to revoke the charter until the district court conducted a full trial on the merits.
Before the temporary injunction was issued, TEA led a plea to the district courts jurisdiction to consider the petition for declaratory judgment. After the temporary injunction was issued, TEA led an accelerated appeal with the Third Court of Appeals disputing the district
court's denial of TEA s plea to its jurisdiction. TEA also invoked section 51.0l4(b) of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedy Code to stay all other district court proceedings pending resolution of the appeal.
On May 5, 2014, based on the temporary injunction, Azleway led a motion to continue this State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) proceeding, including all deadlines and a decision. TEA opposed the motion. TEA argued that the district court had no jurisdiction to issue the injunction, the state of Texas had led an accelerated appeal of the district court's order denying the state's plea to the jurisdiction, and the filing of the appeal stayed the district court's temporary injunction. TEA also argued that, on its face, the temporary injunction did not apply to SOAH. On May 8, 20l4, Judge Newchurch partially granted the motion to continue and indicated that if the court of appeals had either upheld the district court s injunction or not ruled by May 20, 2014, he would extend the continuance.
On May 20, 2014, Judge Newchurch convened a post-hearing teleconference. The patties agreed that the court of appeals had not ruled on the merits of TEA s appeal of the temporary injunction. Judge Newchurch indefinitely abated this proceeding until, and if, the court of appeals or the district court lifted the injunction.
Another intervening charter holder facing revocation led a motion asking the court of appeals to deny the TEA s supersedeas of the temporary injunction, so that the district court's temporary injunction would remain in effect during TEA's appeal. The court of appeals denied that motion. Subsequently, the original plaintiff in the matter before the district court-- another charter holder facing revocation-- led a motion asking the district court to deny TEA's supersedeas. The district court granted that motion, leaving the temporary injunction in effect during the appeal. TEA then led a petition asking the court of appeals to issue a writ of mandamus to the district court.
On July 18, 2014, the court of appeals concluded that the district court abused discretion by issuing an order denying TEA s right to supersedeas. The court of appeals conditionally granted the petition for writ of mandamus, stating the writ would issue only if the district court failed to vacate its order denying TEA's supersedeas.
On July 22, 2014, the district court vacated its order that had granted the motion to deny TEA s supersedeas meaning the temporary injunction is stayed while TEA's jurisdictional appeal is pending.
TEA led with SOAI-l, and served on the Azleway, a motion to lift the abatement of the SOAH proceeding and set deadlines for the parties closing arguments and replies. TEA's motion cited the court of appeals decision and the district court's order vacating its prior order denying supersedeas.
On July 24, 2014, TEA amended that motion to propose later deadlines for the closing arguments and replies.
On July 31, 2014, believing that Azleway had not timely replied to TEA s motion, the ALI granted TEA s motion to lift the abatement and set deadlines. Given what had transpired at the court of appeals and the district court, the ALl concluded that the temporary injunction had been stayed, this case could and should proceed to decision, its abatement should be lifted, and deadlines should be set for the parties to file written closing arguments and replies. Due to the imminent commencement of the 2014-2015 school year, Judge Newchurch set a short schedule for post-hearing activities. He ordered the parties to le written closing arguments by August 7, 2014, and replies by August 12, 2014.
Azleway led a reply to TEA's motion to lift the abatement and set deadlines for closing arguments and replies. lt argued that the abatement should not be lifted because the temporary injunction was still on appeal, no mandate or final decision had been issued by the court of appeals, and the district court only set aside the denial of supersedeas due to undue pressure applied by an assistant solicitor general. TEA led a response reiterating its position that this SOAH proceeding could and should proceed to decision.
On August 7, 2014, Azleway led a motion asking Judge Newchurch to reconsider and declare void his order lifting that abatement and setting deadlines for closing arguments and replies. lt correctly noted that Judge Newchurch had issued the order before Azleway's response to TEA's amended motion to lift the abatement was due.
On realizing that he had mistakenly issued the order before Azleway's response was due, Judge Newchurch reconsidered his order lifting the abatement and setting deadlines. He reviewed Azleway s response in opposition, However, the ALI determined that a further delay was not warranted and left in place the order setting the schedule for ling closings and replies.
TEA led a written closing argument on August 7, 2014, and a reply to offer a copy of a missing exhibit on August 12, 2014. The Respondent did not timely file a closing argument or a reply to TEA's argument.