By Colin Stutz, Los Feliz Ledger Contributing Writer| http://bit.ly/QSM3zA
Thursday, August 30th, 2012 at 7:00 am - SILVER LAKE :: Standing around the concrete courtyard outside Micheltorena Elementary School, about 20 parents carried on conversations as their children ran playing around them.
Since the beginning of the year, these school grounds had been a matter of dispute that divided the community into sects: those who supported the public Micheltorena school and those who waved the charter school banner for Citizens of the World (CWC), which was to move in under rights granted by California Proposition 39 for charter schools to fill “vacant” public school classrooms.
Opponents of the collocation argued these rooms were not vacant but used by a variety of part-time programs and that the collocation would threaten Micheltorena’s enrollment numbers and therefore its livelihood.
Now, the school year has started for Micheltorena and on Sept. 5 will for CWC as well, with five classrooms and an administrative office in bungalow-type buildings spread across the campus’ courtyard. Sharing the lunch area, playground and auditorium, this is the new home for the charter’s two 2nd and one 3rd grade classes, while its six kindergarten and three 1st grade classes are located about three miles away at Grant Elementary.
For this outdoor meet-and-greet, parents from both schools mingled with a spread of potluck snacks sitting on a nearby picnic table. The mood was light. Micheltorena principal Susanna Furfari carried on long discussions with parents and administrators from both schools.
But some Micheltorena expressed skepticism.
“The feeling is for most of the parents this is a one-year bump in the road,” said Marc Killingstad, a father of 1st grade boy at Micheltorena. “What would be the point of competing schools in the same facility? The point is to divide and conquer.”
Other parents expressed resignation.
“It’s not pretty and clean but it’s the law and we have to make it work,” said Ingrid Popper, whose son just started kindergarten in Micheltorena’s new Spanish-English dual-language program.
Micheltorena’s fear of sharing its campus with a charter is not unfounded. Each program receives funding from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) based on enrollment figures. So the two schools are essentially in competition, recruiting students from the same neighborhood. The collocation’s term is for one year with options for reassessment and renewal each year based on the host school’s enrollment and the charter school’s demand.
If Micheltorena’s enrollment were to decrease, CWC could move into more classrooms on the campus. Inversely, CWC will have less classrooms available if Micheltorena’s enrollment increases, as has been the trend with each kindergarten class over the past three years.
“Space and facilities are always the biggest challenge for charters,” said Amy Held, CWC’s executive director who oversees both the CWC Silver Lake school and another campus in Hollywood.
Held said, aside from the obvious logistical hassles, it’s nearly twice as expensive for the CWC to run the split campuses at Micheltorena and Grant. The solution is to find a facility for CWC Silver Lake to move into completely and permanently.
“It’s very hard to know where we’re going to be next year and beyond,” she said.
Despite the uncertainties, starting a new school has excited involved parents.
Kristina De Corpo whose son will be entering 1st grade at CWC was beaming over the school’s potential and the prospect of a mutually beneficial collation with Micheltorena.
“I know the values of both schools,” De Corpo said. “They both value creativity, they both value diversity and they both value community. And I think when you have groups of people who come together that have the same values there’s just natural building of relationships.”
Looking back to that rift of conflict earlier in the year, Micheltorena Principal Furfari blames the Proposition 39 process that did not listen to the community before making any decisions.
“Silver Lake is a very civically active community,” she said, citing how Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti know better than to make major decisions in their regions without several town hall meetings. “But none of that occurs because that’s not part of Prop 39. There’s no community forums whatsoever prior to the pair-up of schools,” she said.
In September, Furfari said, she will again meet with LAUSD to assess Micheltorena’s enrollment projections and how many classrooms it may offer CWC or another charter school next year. More community meetings between the two schools are scheduled to occur as well.
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