By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
3/30/201o -- Two years after settling a lawsuit was supposed to give them access to Los Angeles Unified campuses, local charter schools are bracing for another legal battle that would force the district to turn over the facilities.
In a 21-page letter sent this month to LAUSD lawyers, the California Charter School Association demanded that the district offer more space to local charters by Thursday's state-mandated deadline or face legal challenges.
"It is our sincere hope that these matters will have swift and significant resolution," the letter said. "Otherwise, (we) will have no choice but to seek judicial intervention."
According to the charter association's interpretation of Proposition 39, LAUSD must offer space to all charter schools who request it. The measure, approved by voters in 2000, said district facilities must be shared "fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools."
Charter schools are publicly funded, yet independently operated campuses whose popularity exploded in the last decade.
California charter leaders say LAUSD has one of the worst track records in the state for providing space to charters.
"There is a long record of this district being unable or unwilling to meet their Prop. 39 obligations," said CCSA president Jed Wallace.
"We are working very proactively with the district ... But it is in that larger context of many years of working patiently with the district that we find ourselves in a situation that is still clearly unacceptable."
As of Monday, LAUSD had offered space to 38 of the 81 charters that had filed requests – a response that charter school advocates call unacceptable.
The association also has complaints about the location and quality of the facilities that have been offered. Some have been offered space as far as 16 miles from their recruitment area, while others would have to cram up to 100 students in a classroom.
District officials say they are trying to keep up with charter demands, but that an insufficient supply of campuses has made it difficult.
"The intent is to answer every single proposal," said Parker Hudnut, executive director of LAUSD's Charter and Innovation Division.
"But there are very challenging issues being debated on how best to meet the needs of all public school children."
Hudnut said the district has extended offers of space to a greater number of charter schools since settling the access lawsuit in 2008. However, the district could not provide specific figures.
The tug-of-war over between the district and charter schools over campus access goes back more than a decade. It issue has grown increasingly contentious as the alternative campuses have surged in popularity.
An estimated 67,000 students are enrolled in charter schools in Los Angeles Unified - more than the total student enrollment in urban school districts such as Boston, San Francisco or Washington, D.C.
Feeling pressure from the public and charters, the Los Angeles school board has struggled to find compromises. But even board members who support the charter movement say there is a limit as to what can be done.
"I want to offer educational choices to district families, but we don't have the money or the space to offer classrooms to 81 charters," said board member Tamar Galatzan, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley.
"I don't know where the happy medium is ... Should the board only approve the charter schools that we have space to house?"
Meanwhile, charter campus officials feel they are continuing to get unfair treatment from LAUSD.
"As a parent, a charter school administrator and a community member I see kids attending charter schools being treated differently ... as second-class citizens ... because they choose to attend charter schools," said Tatyana Berkovich, founder and president of Ivy Academia, a charter school with four facilities in the West San Fernando Valley.
"Students at charter schools are already only given leftover space ... That is not only a potential violation of federal discrimination laws but it violates the whole purpose of Proposition 39 that states we need to have equal rights to facilities."
But Hudnut said that finding classroom space for charters is not an easy task.
Rather than opening up space for charters, declining enrollment has simply allowed Los Angeles Unified to transition from year-round to traditional calendars in formerly overcrowded areas.
But after so many years of battling for space, many charter school administrators think it's time that LAUSD tried harder to meet their needs.
Mike Piscal, chief executive officer of ICEF Public Schools, a charter management organization that runs 15 schools in South Los Angeles, said he made eight requests to the district for space. As of Friday, he had received only one response - the renewal of an earlier agreement to share space with the district.
"We are paying rent for facilities that have no gym, no library, no field," Piscal said. "We don't even have one square (foot) of grass."
● “Rather than opening up space for charters, declining enrollment has simply allowed Los Angeles Unified to transition from year-round to traditional calendars in formerly overcrowded areas.”
Simply? This has been my life’s work for the past ten years!
Is the reporter, the charter association or the Daily News suggesting that LAUSD return to year-round calendars –which will be illegal after 2012 – to open up space for charter schools?
● "We are paying rent for facilities that have no gym, no library, no field," Piscal said. "We don't even have one square (foot) of grass." This may seem like the imposition of a Catch 22, but no public school accepting public funding without gyms, playing fields or libraries should be allowed to operate. If ICEF or any charter operator – or any public school - is running such schools they should be shut down. The Rodriguez Consent Decree and the Williams Settlement set minimum facilities standards for public schools as civil rights matters. I don’t think the charter law was meant to exclude any student or parent from equal rights or equitable protection under the law.