BY GARY WALKER | The Argonaut | http://bit.ly/hSYsXM
Thursday, March 17, 2011 - Reevaluating how a 2000 voter-approved education initiative is being handled by the school district or pursuing possible legal action may be the best ways to resolve the continuing controversy regarding colocation at school sites, says Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer.
Colocation, where traditional public schools and charters share campuses and some facilities like the cafeteria, is occurring with great frequency on the Westside. Parents of traditional school pupils of late have begun to speak out and organize around what many feel is LAUSD's decision to give away needed classrooms to charters that share the school sites.
Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Del Rey, Westchester and Venice, thinks it is a certainty that legal action will be one of the few alternatives that parents will have if the district grants more classroom space to charter operators.
“There's no doubt that these issues of colocation and the implementation of Prop. 39 will end up in a court of law,” the school board member told The Argonaut.
Proposition 39 was approved by the electorate 11 years ago to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. Charters are public, independently operated institutions that in many cases do not employ unionized teachers and have fewer students than traditional schools.
They also have far fewer regulations, and that is a growing concern to Zimmer. “I would certainly prefer to have more regulation than less,” he said.
Zimmer feels the state Board of Education must also play a part in assisting school districts and parents with fashioning more detailed rules on colocation by giving direction on the implementation of Prop. 39.
“That is where much of this will be decided,” he said. “The state is the entity that can change the implementation of Prop. 39.”
District 4, the area that Zimmer represents, has the highest number of colocations of all the local school districts, according to the school board member's office.
Beth Hunkapiller, the director of the California Department of Education's Charter Division, could not be reached for comment on colocation.
Karen Wolfe, a Venice resident whose son attends Marina del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, raised the specter of the lack of regulation of charter schools at a community meeting in Venice last month.
“For the governing bodies to let some make their own rules but then give all of the resources to the one with less regulation is not fair,” she said.
Goethe International Charter is sharing space with Marina del Rey, and tensions at the campus have increased after the charter school requested more classrooms from LAUSD. Goethe, which is based on the International Baccalaureate Program and teaches German immersion at the Del Rey site, has asked for an additional five rooms this year, which would give the charter a total of 16.
Teachers and parents at the traditional school say that some of the rooms that Goethe has requested are vital parent centers and intervention rooms, but a representative at the charter school says otherwise.
“What we have requested is purely classroom space,” said John Mora, a trustee and founding parent at Goethe.
In a letter to the Del Rey community, Goethe Principal Fatima Resnik reiterated that the charter had not asked for certain rooms. “Goethe has not requested any specific classrooms, labs or studios at Marina - only classroom space sufficient for our enrollment,” Resnik wrote.
Spurred into action by frustrated parent groups and continued media coverage, the education committees of local neighborhood councils have begun to weigh in on the topic of colocation.
Both committees of the Mar Vista Community Council and the Venice Neighborhood Council heard testimony from charter operators as well as teachers and community members at neighborhood schools recently. Zimmer has also spoken before the Venice committee on colocation and the implementation of Prop. 39.
The Mar Vista Community Council's Education Arts and Culture Committee submitted a motion that was approved by the local council opposing a charter colocation at Mar Vista Elementary and Grand View Boulevard Elementary schools March 8. WISH Charter has applied for five classrooms at Mar Vista and Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools Vista is requesting the same amount for Vista Elementary at Grand View Boulevard as well as seven classrooms at Stoner Avenue Elementary.
“The larger question of education reform as a whole is a very, very complex divergence of interests,” Babak Nahid, co-chair of the Mar Vista committee, told The Argonaut. “The whole reason for our involvement as a committee is because we understand how challenging and complex the issue of colocation and Prop. 39 are and their importance to both our charter and traditional school communities.”
ICEF President Corri Tate-Ravare has heard that Grand View's administration, parent groups and educators have expressed anxiety that her organization's presence will disrupt its progress by taking away parent center and intervention rooms.
“We've heard from the state charter association that there are concerns and that they want to maintain their current programs, but I personally have not had any contact with the Grand View stakeholders,” Tate-Ravare said. “And we realize that this could have an impact on their school.”
Representatives at WISH did not return calls for comment.
One aspect of some of the local charters that concerns Zimmer is that they are not yet reflective of the neighborhoods where they are located. While the student population of Marina del Rey is largely Latino and African- American, Goethe's student body is largely Caucasian.
“The situation in the Del Rey area where there is a charter school that is not serving a demographically representative portion of the community is troubling,” said Zimmer.
Goethe trustee Mora says his school is aware that it does not reflect the surrounding community's demographics but they are working toward that goal.
“We want the diversity of our school to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. We take that very seriously,” he said. “But the tools at our disposal are limited, and what we try to do is do as much outreach as we can.
“We want to provide the absolute best educational environment that we can.”
Charter schools typically hold lotteries for a certain number of slots at their schools and many, like Green Dot Charter, conduct outreach to children who live in the neighborhood where the charter is located.
Wolfe, whose daughter attends Ocean Charter School, which shares a campus with Walgrove Elementary School in Mar Vista, said the charter school is not as diverse as Walgrove.
Green Dot has applied for eight classrooms at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice and the charter's founder, Marco Petruzzi, implored parents and teachers at a March 12 community meeting to realize that his organization wants the same as parents from traditional schools.
“We're (misdirecting) our anger and we're putting parents against parents,” Petruzzi, a Venice resident whose daughter attends Coeur d'Alene Elementary School, told the audience. “The charter is us.”
Zimmer also discussed what he feels is an area that has not been explored by LAUSD that is a critical component of colocation and Prop. 39.
“I believe that there is a strand of argument that I don't think has been explored,” the school board member said. “If Prop. 39 offers an adverse effect on traditional schools, I believe that the district will have significant (legal) exposure to the program that they are implementing.”
LAUSD Executive Director of Charter Schools Division Jose Cole Gutierrez did not return calls for comment.
LAUSD will issue its final offer to charter organizations that have petitioned for classroom space April 1.