Thursday, July 02, 2009


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer |LA Newspaper Group/Daily News

2 July 2009 -- The Los Angeles Unified school board voted to convert Birmingham High School to a charter Wednesday, ending a long and bitter battle between teachers and parents at the district's largest campus.

The board also made Birmingham's journalism and communications magnet a separate campus, housing about 500 students.

The 5-2 vote came a day after Birmingham's principal and athletic director, lead petitioners of the charter, were disciplined for their approval of student athletes being used in a racy GQ magazine photo shoot featuring "Bruno" star Sacha Baron Cohen.

With the charter approved, the district no longer has the right to discipline Birmingham principal Marsha Coates and athletic director Richard Prizant, since neither will be employees of LAUSD.

"I will support this charter," said school board president Monica Garcia.

"But I have a big issue. ... It is unacceptable for kids to be used. To the board of this have a big deal on your hands. The public trust has been violated on this campus."

The charter plan was launched by Coates and approved by 80 of 120 teachers at Birmingham last fall. Supporters hope to bring reform and more financial freedom to the school, but over the last six months opposition to the plan grew while accusations of foul play, intimidation and harassment flew between different factions on campus.

Teachers and students at the Daniel Pearl journalism magnet program on campus

opted out of the charter with an OK from district staff.


Other teachers, including the union chair, also tried to convert part of the school to an "iDesign" campus, under the district's branch for innovative schools. That plan would have split the campus in three - with a charter, magnet and iDesign high school.

Coates, who will be the principal of Birmingham Community Charter High School scheduled to open this August, did not say whether she'd be willing to have a third school on the 80-acre campus.

"I would have to look at the legalities," Coates said.

She added that she would be willing to listen to plans and "heal" her campus.

After approving the charter board members engaged in a lengthy discussion on addressing concerns by the 40 teachers who had pushed for the iDesign school, and who had signed a petition promising to ask for a transfer from the school if their proposal was rejected.

The board instructed LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines to continue working with those teachers.

The iDesign school would be called the Institute at Birmingham for the Humanities and Social Justice.

IBHS supporter and spokesman Steve Shapiro, who is married to a Birmingham teacher, said he feared the action was too little too late.

"Unless the board makes a move to approve a plan in the next two weeks all these teachers will transfer and be dispersed...and IBHS is dead," he said.

Board member Tamar Galatzan, who voted in favor of the charter, said she hopes the Birmingham case would help highlight the need for more school options for LAUSD schools.

"Right now the only option for schools who want to innovate is to go charter," Galatzan said.

"The district created an innovation division but this example proves that plan didn't work."


smf’s CORRECTION: The Birmingham campus, the largest high school campus in LAUSD, is not really in danger of being separated into three schools because the campus was already shared by three schools. In addition to Birmingham High School the campus is occupied by Mulholland Middle School and High Tech Los Angeles Charter High Schoolanother charter school. Plus the Local District I offices, a school police sub station, etc.

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