Charter advocates say LAUSD must hand over classrooms

first_imgDistrict officials deny the association’s allegations, saying they have tried to work with charter leaders but have only limited resources themselves. “I think we’re on the leading edge of the charter-expansion movement in this country, and a lot of times we’re breaking new ground,” said Jim Cowell, director of construction at LAUSD. “We’re very committed to charter-expansion opportunities because we realize that charter-school children and LAUSD children are all public-school children, and we’re working hard to provide adequate facilities for them.” In fact, the district is in the middle of a school construction boom, funded by $11 billion in bonds that voters have approved over the last five years. The district has allocated $120 million of that bond revenue to charters, including $20 million to purchase land for campus construction, Cowell said. The district also has earmarked an additional $67.2 million for charters from funds to build traditional schools. HOW WOULD YOU FIX LAUSD? Share your thoughts in The Education Revolution, our new education blog. Despite a voter-approved law requiring school districts to share resources with charter campuses, LAUSD is withholding $85 million from the independent schools and has fulfilled only two requests for facilities since 2005, according to records and interviews. The California Charter Schools Association plans to step up pressure on the Los Angeles Unified School District to comply with Proposition 39, which was passed in 2000 and requires school districts to provide sufficient facilities to accommodate every charter school’s students. Association officials say the district is trying to stymie the growth of the booming program by unreasonably restricting access to cash and classrooms. “They just don’t take seriously their legal requirements to provide facilities to charter school students,” said Caprice Young, a former LAUSD board member who now heads the Charter Schools Association. “Their record has been absolutely abysmal. They treat charter students like second-class citizens.” But Young complains the district has spent just $35 million of the $120 million to provide badly needed facilities for charter students. She questions why the district hasn’t been more forthcoming – and more aggressive – with its plans for the remaining $85 million. “We’ve been more than patient. Over the last several years we have provided proposals over and over again on how to provide seats in overcrowded neighborhoods, and we’ve been consistently ignored,” Young said. The association’s complaints notwithstanding, the district has provided facilities for some charters, including the NEW Academy Charter, part of a landmark mixed-use project in Canoga Park. But Young says those kinds of investments are too few and far between. She says LAUSD has denied or made “unreasonable” offers – the facility proposed did not have enough space or it was too far from the community served – in 57 of the 59 facilities requests made by its charter schools from 2005 to 2007. For example, College Ready Academy, with 238 students, was offered the use of four classrooms at a campus 27 miles away from students, Young said. And Synergy Charter Academy, which requested at least eight classrooms close to the South Los Angeles homes of its 140 students, was offered four classrooms at a school in Venice. So Synergy, like many schools, found itself operating out of a parish center adjacent to St. Patrick Church. That means that teachers have to create a classroom setting every Monday morning – laying down rugs, taking books out of storage, reconfiguring desks – then dismantle it every Friday afternoon. “We need to grow to sustain operations, to serve students,” said Meg Palisoc, the principal at Synergy, which boasts Academic Performance Index scores of 813 on the state’s standardized tests. The statewide goal is 800. “I hope the district is trying its best to find our school a facility.” The district says the demand for independent campuses is growing so quickly – there are already 103 charters, more than any other district in the nation – it simply can’t keep up. But with an April 1 deadline looming for releasing a facilities plan under Proposition 39, district and charter officials both say they are looking at all alternatives. The charter association may be weighing a lawsuit like one filed last year against San Diego Unified, which forced that district to significantly expand its facilities offerings. The number of charter schools that got “reasonable” offers of facilities subsequently jumped from 11 to 79 percent. Los Angeles Unified officials, meanwhile, are considering policy changes that would allow them to free up more bond money for charters. “We can work in partnership and collaboration with charters, because if they provide opportunities for students in critically impacted areas, that helps everybody,” Cowell said. Experts say the law that mandated equal treatment for charter students created a dilemma for school districts, forcing them to cooperate with a movement designed to reform the status quo. “At the base of it, it seems to me it’s just cold politics. You’ve got both parties acting in their self-interest,” said Penny Wohlstetter, a professor and director of the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California. “That’s why the courts need to come in to resolve this. This problem is not going to be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.” She noted that some states have made disinterested third parties responsible for charter operations in order to remove politics from the equation. “In L.A. Unified’s defense, they never asked for that responsibility,” Wohlstetter said. “We may end up seeing this issue come to the fore in California.” (818) 713-3722 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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