Thursday, February 18, 2010


by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now blog

February 18, 2010 |  9:11 pm -- The chance to operate 18 new campuses would be divided among competing bidders in a politically balanced way under recommendations released Thursday by Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

His recommendations are the next step in a process through which bidders from inside and outside the school district are competing to run the  18 new campuses as well as 12 persistently low-performing schools. 

The main competitors include groups of teachers—often working with district administrators—versus independently operated charter schools, which are exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools.

In the end, each political constituency is positioned to get something, but there is also substantial disappointment--especially among charter school advocates.

The Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to make the final selections Tuesday and intense lobbying from all quarters has already begun.

Charter companies had bid mainly for new campuses. Most of the larger, better-known charter organizations got one school or part of one school, but charter advocates said Cortines should have gone further based on their record of running high-achieving schools.

Charters scored seven new small schools, some on campuses they would share with schools that are still affiliated with the school district. Proposals involving district teachers claimed 18 new small schools. A nonprofit controlled by the mayor also competed for a new elementary school and would get it, under the superintendent’s choices.

Among the existing schools, the biggest news concerned Jefferson High in Central-Alameda. Cortines opted for an internal reform proposal at a school where he  handpicked the current principal. The loser in that competition would be the mayor’s team.

The mayor’s nonprofit, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, also lost to an internal plan at Griffith-Joyner Elementary in Watts, but would claim a notable prize: Carver Middle School in South Park.

The Youth Policy Institute will split San Fernando Middle School with an internal district team. The institute would keep its part of the school within the school system rather than making it a charter.

A handful of charter operators vied for an existing school and lost. Yet for most of the existing schools there was no competition; only an internal plan emerged. Cortines approved these but expressed strong reservations on some.

No San Fernando Valley school went to a charter, which dismayed charter operator Eugene Selivanov.

“A lot of us have been very skeptical of this process and I guess a lot of us were right,” said Selivanov, executive director of Ivy Academia. The “superintendent’s recommendations show that this was never a competitive process.”

Charter operator Mike Piscal called the split campuses a “half a loaf strategy.”

His ICEF Public Schools is supposed to share a middle school campus. He would run one small school and an internal district team would run two.

“From a practical standpoint, it runs the risk of muddling reform by putting three schools run by two separate operators on a campus built and intended to house one,” he said.

The new Torres High School complex will house five new small schools. Cortines wants to see two charter schools and three “pilot” schools. The pilots are internal, teacher-led plans for schools that are supposed to have much of the autonomy of charter schools

Former school board member David Tokofksy called the split campuses “educational Darwinism” that overlooks the importance of unity and collaboration to a successful school.

The teacher groups did well overall, but they could take issue with the recommendations as well. They had a claim to every campus because the teacher plans prevailed in every school-level advisory election among staff, parents and high school students.

Cortines, however, was not bound to comply with these results. He also examined analyses by professional evaluators and conducted his own review.

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