LAUSD schools that will house them argue there's not enough classroom space to share
By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
2008-09 Proposition 39 offers
4/7/2008 - Even as Los Angeles Unified finally boosted efforts last week to give charter schools more space on district campuses, the move has caused dissent that could lay the groundwork for conflict between the district and the popular education movement.
Two months after LAUSD settled lawsuits challenging lagging efforts to share its facilities with the independent schools, the district has offered space on traditional campuses to 39 charter schools - the majority of the 54 that applied.
The placement offers are the most the district has ever made and triple the 13 space assignments it offered last year.
But now some traditional schools that will house the charters are complaining they don't have enough space to share. And some charters are complaining about having to break up their schools onto multiple campuses far from their current locations, among other issues.
"We received an offer which is absolutely inadequate for the needs that we have," said Tatyana Berkovich, founder and president of Ivy Academia, the highest-performing charter in LAUSD that has been fighting for four years to move into a closed district campus nearby.
The Woodland Hills charter has received a district offer that would require splitting about 1,000 K-12 students among 16 classrooms on three separate LAUSD campuses.
"They're three different locations, very little space, and the most frustrating thing is ... there are six closed LAUSD facilities just
sitting there," she said.
Charter schools have until May1 to decide whether to accept the offers, even as district officials said they are continuing to explore ways to make space available and to try to offer sites to the additional 15 charters that applied for the coming school year.
But some traditional campuses targeted for the charters say any acceptances will create serious problems as LAUSD grapples with aiding 128 of the independent schools - the most of any district in the nation.
Steve Gediman, principal of Pinewood Elementary in Tujunga, said he was told the district offered 11 of his school's classrooms to Pacoima's Bert Corona Middle School.
While the 470-student, K-5 Pinewood will have some empty classrooms because of declining enrollment, the rooms still are being used to teach lab classes in computer, arts and English.
And Gediman said he is concerned about mixing elementary and middle school students on the same campus.
"Obviously there are some challenges to what's being offered since they are middle school students and this is an elementary school," Gediman said. "Also, we have some good programs here, and I would hate to see those programs negatively impacted."
CHAMPS charter school has been offered 15 classrooms in Woodland Hills' Taft High, but Taft Principal Sharon Thomas said she doesn't have enough classrooms to spare.
McNair said Taft will have to stop the practice of taking new open-enrollment students, which has allowed schools to offer leftover seats to students districtwide.
And that will mean the school loses the funds that had come with each of the new students.
"I really don't have that many classrooms available, so it's kind of interesting the way they came up with that number," said Thomas, who is seeking a meeting with the local district superintendent.
But Caprice Young, head of the state's Charter Schools Association, said that while some offers might be inconvenient, the district should be commended for its efforts to boost charter facilities.
"On the face of it, this is the most offers they've made ever, and the strongest attempt they've ever made to comply with Prop.39 requirements to ensure that charter-school kids get treated fairly," she said, citing the statewide ballot measure passed in 2000 that calls for districts to share facilities fairly among all students. "But there's still more to go."
Young said she's encouraged by the increased collaboration with charters and thinks the offers will be more appealing in coming years as strategies become more effective.
Greg McNair, associate general counsel who oversees the district's Proposition 39 program, said district officials were able to make more offers this year because they were creative in identifying space and included the facilities department in the process.
"Through discussions, we created a better understanding of what charters would be willing to accept, and they gained a greater understanding of the challenge that Prop. 39 is to a district that is still overcrowded," McNair said.
He acknowledged that some of the offers are not ideal as some charters are being split up, some placements are miles from a charter's current campus, and elementary, middle and high school students could be mingled on a single campus.
But with more requests for space for secondary students - of 16,000 charter seats requested, just 2,000 were for elementary students - and very limited secondary school space, the district had little choice but to combine schools.
"We had to make difficult choices in making space available," McNair said, emphasizing that a high school was only sited on an elementary campus if district officials were confident they could separate the students.
McNair said the district wasn't able to make any of the six closed LAUSD campuses part of the offers for the 2009-10 school year because there wasn't enough time or money to prepare the campuses.
But school board member Tamar Galatzan said she is creating a policy on how to use the campuses - including for charters - and hopes next year will include options for charter schools in the West San Fernando Valley.
"What we're envisioning for two of the empty campuses is for them to be turned into homes for charter schools," Galatzan said.
"One of the great failings of L.A. Unified in the Valley is that we have vacant campuses sitting there going to waste while charter schools can't find space and we're renting facilities for other programs."