Tuesday, January 25, 2011

CHARTERS GAIN SEATS IN LAUSD: District offers alternative schools 25,000 classroom spots, but some contend that's not enough.

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/fEqZxx

01/25/2011 09:18:14 PM PST -- Los Angeles Unified officials unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to offer an unprecedented 25,000 classroom seats to 81 charter schools on district campuses, although charter advocates argued the proposal does not comply with state law.

LAUSD has historically struggled with sharing its facilities with the independently run alternative schools.

Charter advocates have sued the district twice for failing to comply with Proposition 39, which states that district facilities must be shared "fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools."

District officials made this latest offer of space, considered preliminary until April, to comply with Prop. 39. It would be the largest offer ever made by LAUSD, which houses the largest concentration of charter campuses in the nation.

"The look of this district is changing," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

"And that is a good thing because we're trying to provide parents with more educational opportunities."

Charter school advocates, however, hope to see major changes to the district's proposal.

The district offered 57 charter schools classroom space at single existing district campuses, while 24 charter schools were offered classrooms split among multiple sites.

For example, Fenton Primary Center, a K-1-only campus, was offered 23 classrooms on three different school sites within a roughly one-mile radius in Pacoima, according to district documents.

Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said such offers violate Prop. 39 because the law says offers of classroom space have to be given on one campus.

Wallace also said he would need to carefully review the other 57 offers to make sure they complied with what operators had requested.

Under Prop. 39, the school district has to make preliminary offers of space to charter campuses who request it by Feb. 1 and final offers by April1.

"We hope the district will make the changes necessary by the final deadline to make these offers legally compliant," Wallace said.

In the San Fernando Valley alone, preliminary offers of space were given to 20 charter schools at 25 district campuses, according to district documents.

Some charter schools were given smaller offers of space, like Magnolia Science Academy, which was offered eight classrooms at Riverside Elementary in Sherman Oaks.

Other proposals could considerably change the landscape of a school. Ivy Academia, a K-12 Woodland Hills charter school, was offered 24 classrooms at Taft High School, also in Woodland Hills.

Some school board members questioned if the final impact of these co-locations had been thoroughly vetted.

"This is serious stuff, this could dramatically change the culture of a school," said board member Marguerite LaMotte.

Cortines agreed that the impact of the co-locations would be significant at most schools, but he also stressed that the school district is undergoing a significant transition with the charter school movement continuing to grow at a quick pace.

"We are no longer a cookie-cutter district," he said.

School board member Steve Zimmer also asked Cortines to carefully review all of the offers to make sure home schools - the district campus - would not be unfairly impacted.

"Anyone who says a co-location doesn't disrupt the home school has never been on a co-located campus," Zimmer said.

He also argued that if the district planned to share more space with charter schools, more needs to be done to make sure both schools serve similar types of students.

Zimmer said in his local board district, which includes the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, several charter schools continue to have fewer special education, English language learners and low-income students than their traditional district counterparts in the same neighborhood.

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