Sunday, July 13, 2008

CHARTER SCHOOL BATTLE IN L.A.: growing demand for charter space is again drawing community resistance.

By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer LA Daily news

The closed Highlander Elementary School in West Hills ... (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)


7/13/08 - Los Angeles Unified officials are considering opening as many as five long-closed school sites in the San Fernando Valley to house hundreds of charter school students.

The sites have been closed since the early 1980s because of declining enrollment, but But with the LAUSD required to accommodate charters under state law, despite continuing strains on classroom space, district officials said they are eyeing all options.

"There will be four facilities offered to charters," said John Creer, director of planning and development for the Facilities Services Division.

"What we're trying to do is accommodate the charter interest."

And Senior Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines said he would also consider adding another school to that list.

There are six closed LAUSD schools in the Valley: Collins Street Elementary School in Woodland Hills, Devonshire Elementary School in Chatsworth, Highlander Road Elementary in West Hills, Charles E. Hughes Middle School in Woodland Hills, Oso Avenue Elementary School in Woodland Hills and Platt Ranch Elementary in Woodland Hills.

Three of the schools - Collins, Highlander and Oso elementary schools - are currently unoccupied.

At Highlander, windows are boarded up with sheets of wood. Rusted locks covered in spider webs hold together chain-link fences around the playground, which is cracked and crawling with weeds.

Nearby, Platt Ranch is partially occupied by a performing arts program. Devonshire is used for professional development and administrative staff.

Hughes Middle School is used for adult education classes, administrative staff and the Valley headquarters for the Beyond the Bell after-school program.

"The students of Los Angeles are the students of Los Angeles," said Cortines. "I want them to be treated with equity, be that in a district school or a charter."

Valley Schools Closed

But members of the West Hills Neighborhood Council said they want an activity center for senior citizens at Highlander Road Elementary.

"It's not that we'd be upset about a school, but a lot of people have worked for a senior center," said Dan Brin, board member of the West Hills Neighborhood Council.

And the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization is opposed to charter schools as neighbors.

"Technically, none of us have a problem with charters if they were decent neighbors, but they tend not to be," said Gordon Murley, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization.

Officials had initially proposed two of the sites, and half of a third, be used for charters. But more sites were added by district officials amid a surge of interest from charter schools.

Board member Tamar Galatzan said reopening the closed schools has been a concern since she took office last year.

"L.A. Unified is in the business of educating kids," she said. "Instructional needs must drive what we do with these campuses.

"Using a fully-functional gym for storage is no one's idea of a good plan."

Galatzan and Creer said when LAUSD officials began discussing long-term plans for the campuses about a year ago there was little interest from charter schools.

But Caprice Young, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said charters always have been interested but until a recent lawsuit forced LAUSD to find space for charter use, charter officials didn't think they would get district support.

"We've been interested in Devonshire Elementary School for a few years now," said Bill Maxwell, a board member and parent at Our Community School charter school.

But Murley, with the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, said residents are comfortable with the adult school and administrative use - just not a charter.

"If charters want to come into anyone's neighborhood, they need to come in, listen and be good neighbors," Murley said. "That's paramount."

Parking, student drivers, pickup and drop-off are all immediate concerns, Murley said, adding he is also worried charters might want to expand.

District officials last week said they did not have any estimates of potential student capacity at any of the closed-school sites.

The current plan isn't the first attempt to return students to the closed campuses.

In 2002, LAUSD board member Marlene Canter introduced a resolution that included leasing Platt Ranch, Highlander and Oso elementary schools, as well as Hughes middle, to charter schools.

But that resolution eventually was changed. Under that new resolution, Collier and Collins elementary schools were leased and the superintendent was asked to complete a report on options for the other closed schools.

LAUSD has two other closed campuses: 98th Street Elementary School, which is leased to Green Dot Public Schools, and Berkeley Early Education Center near Dodger Stadium.

In the Valley, West Hills neighbors had been sizing up Highlander Elementary as a site for a senior center.

But Young argues that the schools were created for a specific purpose.

"These are schools. Taxpayers built them as schools," she said. "That said, there could be creative opportunities for schools and a senior center.

Ron Sobel, on the West Hills Neighborhood Council and chairman of its senior center committee, said he is willing to consider the idea.

"There's no reason why some of these places can't be used in a multipurpose way," he said. "It's a community school. They've got to listen to the community."


Charter school battle in L.A. - LA Daily News

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