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Proposals for Charter Schools Are Rejected : Education: Acting chief Stanley G. Oswalt says the plans lacked details and raised fiscal concerns. Supporters say the independence would have spurred achievement.

August 29, 1993|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMPTON — Compton's acting schools chief has rejected two proposals to establish independent public schools in the district. The plans were incomplete, potentially costly and offered little that could not be achieved in other ways, administrator Stanley G. Oswalt said.

Backers of the proposals had sought district approval for "charter schools" that would operate outside the authority of the Compton Unified School District. They pledged to improve student achievement in exchange for this independence.

One charter plan came from the staff of Bunche Elementary School and was put together with help from area college administrators and community volunteers. Staff members at Whaley Middle School drew up the other plan, which received pledges of support from other college administrators and community groups.

Whaley charter organizer John Rubio, who teaches at the middle school, said he was disappointed and frustrated with the district's decision, which was announced last week.

"There is no place where a charter school is needed more than in Compton," Rubio said. "Yet Compton seems to be one of the most difficult places to incorporate educational reform and that's unfortunate, especially for the children.

"I don't believe we got a fair hearing at all," he added. "We never had the chance to sit down with district officials and discuss the plan or its potential weakness." Supporters of the other charter voiced similar complaints.

The state's charter schools act allows any school to adopt a charter, spelling out school goals and how it would be run. Charter petitions must be signed by a majority of a school's teachers and also win district approval. About 70% of the teachers at Whaley and Bunche signed the petitions. District officials were never enthusiastic, however.

In the Bunche proposal, a local governing board would have used its powers to increase parent involvement and introduce innovative teaching.

"The public schools are failing poor and disadvantaged children," UCLA Vice Chancellor Winston Doby told the school board last month. "The (Bunche) teachers decided they wanted to work for a dream."

"We need a change," added Bunche teacher Inez Carolyn Harvey. "And we're willing to take the risk of a charter school."

The details were negotiable and organizers said they had hoped to work out specifics with district officials.

But in a letter to Bunche Principal Madine Outlaw, Oswalt said the plan lacked specifics, such as how the school would select textbooks and other educational materials.

In addition, the proposal makes no allowances for transporting students even though 90% of Bunche students are bused to school. "This would have a major impact on the district for . . . providing adequate facilities, equipment and furniture for the students who currently attend Bunche but could no longer if transportation isn't provided," Oswalt wrote.

Oswalt said the plan also lacked support from parents.

Approving a plan with so many unknowns would have been premature, he concluded.

UCLA's Doby, who helped develop a charter school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said none of the objections are valid. He said busing could have been provided by the school district, as it had always been. He also said more than 100 parents had signed the charter petition in a school system in which parent involvement is "extremely low."

Whaley's 107-page proposal pledged to decrease class size, offer medical exams at school and install computers and printers in every classroom. Parents would have been asked to assist with school activities. Parents and students who failed to meet the school's requirements would get extra counseling, including home visits. Free on-campus baby-sitting for small children was proposed to allow more parents to take part in classroom activities.

In a letter to Whaley Principal Charles Littles, Oswalt wrote that the charter proposal lacked clear, measurable goals for student achievement, among other shortcomings.

Rubio challenged Oswalt's findings, saying that the Whaley proposal was based in large part on plans that had already been approved for charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Many of Oswalt's misgivings are based on financial concerns.

He said he feared that either proposal could siphon away money that the school system could not afford to lose. The charter schools would have operated on money the state provides based on student attendance. Losing that money would "compound the fiscal problems currently being experienced by the district," Oswalt wrote.

The school system, which has already received an emergency $10.5-million state loan, is struggling to slash programs, jobs and salaries to offset an estimated $8-million deficit. The district surrendered control to a state-appointed administrator as a condition of the loan.

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