Sunday, January 06, 2008


By Nadra Kareem - San Fernando Valley Business Journal Staff

Monday, January 7, 2008 In September, Woodland Hills charter school Ivy Academia expanded to include high school students, creating an increased urgency in the school’s search for a local facility that can accommodate both its smallest and biggest students.

Representatives of Ivy, a high-performing school with an entrepreneurial focus, say they qualify for state funds that would allow them to move into one of a handful of closed Los Angeles Unified School District buildings in the area. There’s just one problem. LAUSD has become a stumbling block as the school attempts to transition into one of these buildings, say Ivy officials.

While the Ivy community staged a protest in November about its quest for a new facility, the struggle the school has undergone around this issue isn’t new.

“For the last three years, we’ve been Gypsies. We’ve been in temples. We’ve been in churches,” Ivy Academia President and Founder Tatyana Berkovich said. “Schools should be used for schools.”

While Ivy’s flagship facility is on De Soto Avenue in Woodland Hills, the school also shares a site with Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park. There, Ivy houses its first through third grade students in six classrooms that are half the size of typical LAUSD classrooms, said Ivy’s Executive Director Eugene Selivanov. Moreover, students at the Sunny Brae site have no area designated for sports and recreation and have to use portable bathroom facilities, Selivanov and Berkovich say.

Also, “We can’t have a normal library. We can’t have a normal computer lab,” Berkovich continued. “Taxpayers are paying for the best, and they should have the best. They [students] need basketball [courts] and football fields and baseball fields, and they deserve to have big classrooms.”

School officials say they approached LAUSD representatives for help but were rebuffed.

According to Berkovich and Selivanov, one district official told them that they could not use the facilities they had in mind because the buildings were needed for broom storage as well for purposes of professional development and adult education.

“They don’t believe there’s a need for new schools in this community.” Selivanov said.

The facility Ivy has in mind has been closed for 23 years and sits on a site of roughly seven to eight acres, representatives say. It is around the corner from Ivy’s De Soto site, which houses their fourth through ninth grade students. If Ivy were to acquire the building, parents with children in both age groups would no longer have to make multiple trips to take children to and from school.

“What’s frustrating is the State can give us $40 million to rehabilitate” the site in question,” Selivanov said. “LAUSD is not required to put in any money.”

Proposition 39 and Proposition 1D funds would allow charter schools such as Ivy to access the funds needed to revamp facilities. To revamp a closed LAUSD facility, however, Ivy would need to enter into an agreement with the district. But Ivy officials feel that there is no government agency to hold LAUSD accountable for its role in the process. Complicating matters is that the school faces a state deadline later this month to begin the process of reserving the funds necessary to revamp one of the closed schools.

“If our kids weren’t going to charter school, the district would have to open those facilities to them. What makes them different because they’re in charter schools?” Berkovich asked. “John Creer should make sure these facilities are utilized.”

But Creer, director of planning and development for LAUSD’s Facilities Services Division, said that Ivy is simplifying matters. “The situation is not as simple as Mr. [Selivanov] would like to make it,” Creer said. “We’re a district that has abided by every principle of law there is. What we’re trying to do is exercise fairness with everybody out there in the charter community who’s made claims on or requested our space. Any claim that we have been unfair to them has no basis in fact or in law.”

LAUSD Deputy General Counsel Jess Womack agreed. “The short of it is, we have a process that we have to go through in order to make schools available. That’s No. 1,” he said. “The second thing, the specific statute, Prop. 1D, starts with the premise a charter school actually has reached an agreement with the school district to rehabilitate a specific property.”

However, no such agreement exists at this time, Womack said. He acknowledged that Ivy did approach the district “in an effort to reserve funding for at least one school here.” But the board, on the advice of counsel, decided not to enter into such an agreement due to the issues surrounding use of the facilities. While LAUSD has yet to enter into an agreement that would result in Ivy being allowed to rehabilitate one of its facilities, Womack said that the district will continue to work with the charter school to enable it to get the necessary funding set aside.

Creer said that, by February, he would like to present the board with a master plan as to the long-term use of its closed facilities in the West Valley. “We’re constantly working with charters to help find space,” he said. “We’ve been doing everything we can do in our power to give them the space that we can.”

But even if LAUSD allows Ivy to use one of the closed facilities, the charter will by no means be moving in straightaway. “There has to be quite an amount of rehab going on,” Creer explained. “That’s not an overnight process. It’s not as if they could occupy it tomorrow.”

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