By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/hmg8ee
22 Feb 2011 - On banners posted along Valley Circle Boulevard, El Camino Real High School publicizes its scholastic record, which includes six National Academic Decathlon championships and the title of highest-performing campus in Los Angeles Unified.
However, the Woodland Hills high school is just two weeks away from finalizing its plan to break off from LAUSD, joining nearly two dozen other district schools in converting to independently run charters.
As a charter, El Camino would receive about $415,000 more in state money each year than it does now, officials say - and greater flexibility in how to spend it.
For the cash-strapped district, El Camino's defection would mean the loss of funding it now receives for the 3,500-student school - and bragging rights over the academic powerhouse.
"It is threatening to the district ... It threatens our fiscal ability to provide the level of services we've been providing," said John Deasy, who will take over in April as superintendent of the nation's second-largest district.
"Economies of scale become compromised when you shrink ... We're going to have to find new models as soon as possible to make staying with the school district as attractive an alternative as leaving."
Like traditional schools, charter campuses receive taxpayer money, but under a different formula that may increase their allocation. They are also free from many of the rules and regulations governing how they can spend the money.
Unlike district schools located in impoverished or working-class neighborhoods, campuses in upscale areas - like El Camino - find themselves excluded from many programs that provide additional money to help low-income or minority students.
As independent campuses, however, charters receive state funding under a different formula that provides additional money for every student on campus.
In the 2009-10 school year, for instance, charter high schools received an average of $7,369 per student, compared with $6,417 per student at traditional high schools.
Leaders of local schools that have converted to charters say the financial incentives are a factor in making the change - but not necessarily the most important one.
Charters are overseen by a board of directors - composed of teachers, parents and residents - who help make decisions impacting the campus.
"It's like going from being a renter versus an owner," said Brian Bauer, principal of Granada Hills Charter High School.
Bauer said the sense of ownership extends to the school's students, whose academic performance improved.
"That is a fundamental shift that takes place when you go charter," Bauer said.
Taking advantage of these benefits, 23 Los Angeles Unified campuses have converted to charters in recent years - about half located in affluent suburbs and one-third in the San Fernando Valley.
And that number is expected to grow.
LAUSD board member Tamar Galatzan, whose district encompasses much of the Valley, said she knows of at least five local elementary schools that plan to convert to charter status by next year.
"A break-up is happening," she said. "Charter (schools) are breaking up the school district ... and we don't know yet if this is a good thing or not."