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Independent School Proposals Get Little Initial Support : Education: Union leader, president of trustees criticize ideas for autonomous campuses. They cite costs, fears of secession by prosperous areas.


COMPTON — Two separate groups of teachers have petitioned the Compton school board for permission to operate independent public schools in exchange for a pledge to improve student achievement. Teachers at Whaley Middle School submitted their plan Tuesday, and teachers at Bunche Elementary presented their proposal earlier this month. Both petitions met with a cool reception from district officials, who called the proposed schools costly, unworkable and unnecessary.

Under the plans, each school would be directed by its own administrators, teachers and parents. The money to run the schools would come from public education funds currently allotted to the Compton Unified School District.

Such schools are legal under recent state legislation that allows educators to create experimental, autonomous schools called "charter schools." If the school board denies the petition, the Whaley group said it would appeal to the county education office, which has the final say.

The Whaley proposal would establish the "Compton Academy Charter School," serving grades 4 through 8. Charter organizer John Rubio said the proposed school would address what he called the district's two main problems: disadvantaged students and ineffective teachers and administrators.

"We can open a school in Compton that doesn't just give a teacher tenure because they have completed a certain amount of course work, that holds all teachers and parents accountable for their children's learning, that demands no less of the parents than the school's administration," said Rubio, a 24-year-old bilingual teacher who just completed his first year at Whaley.

The state's charter schools act allows any school to adopt a charter, spelling out school goals and how it would be run, if a majority of the school's teachers and the school board supports the move. About 70% of the teachers at Whaley and Bunche signed the charter petitions.

Minimum goals under the Whaley plan include significant improvement in student test scores. Compton student scores typically rank at or near the bottom statewide.

The school would have an open enrollment policy, with first preference given to families that live in neighborhoods currently served by the school.

The 107-page charter proposal describes staffing and equipment that would be the envy of most public schools. Classes would have 17 to 24 students. Most district classes are now assigned more than 30 students.

Unlike most district schools, the charter school would have a full-time nurse and offer occasional medical exams and on-campus vaccinations. Petitioners want two computers and printers in every classroom and a television and video recorder for every four classrooms.

Parents would be asked to assist with school activities. Parents and students who failed to meet the school's requirements would get extra counseling, including home visits, Rubio said. Free on-campus baby-sitting for small children would allow more parents to take part in classroom activities.

Critics said the charter school would be too costly. The school would have to operate with money the state provides based on student attendance. The school district, which is funded the same way, has been unable to provide the resources that Rubio envisions.

Rubio said the charter school would have a leaner bureaucracy. Charter schools also have more freedom in how they spend their share of additional government funds for children from low-income families and students who speak limited English.

Rubio also said he would expect to attract high-caliber teachers and administrators.

"The quality of teaching in Compton is terrible," Rubio said. "Thirty to 40% of the teachers shouldn't be in the classroom. I don't know how they can sleep at night."

The charter school could retrain or remove ineffective teachers through peer and administrative reviews.

Teachers union President Margie Garrett said he agreed that teaching needs to improve, but advocates additional teacher training and improved instructional materials. She added that she does not like the possibility of employees losing union protection.

School board President Kelvin Filer also said he is wary of charter schools.

"I cannot imagine a charter proposal coming before me that I would like," Filer said before the meeting. "I can imagine the district devising a program that would give more local control to the school administrators and teachers."

The law requires school systems to schedule public hearings on charter school petitions within 30 days of submission. District have 60 days to make a final decision. A public hearing on the Bunche proposal is set July 27.

Filer said he worried that the Bunche proposal could become a secession attempt by one of the more prosperous sections of Compton. Bunche serves middle-class west Compton, near the border of Carson. He said he views charter efforts in general as "a disguise for wealthy enclaves to break off from a public school system."

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