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Finding School Sites Will Need Everyone's Creativity

September 17, 2000|GENETHIA HUDLEY HAYES | Genethia Hudley Hayes is president of the LAUSD Board of Education. This commentary also was signed by LAUSD board members Caprice Young, Mike Lansing and Valerie Fields

Every Angeleno is affected by public education. The public school system can and will facilitate Los Angeles' revitalization, but it needs the support of the entire community.

At the forefront of the Los Angeles Unified School District's agenda is the need for new school construction. If every child is to have a traditional, nine-month school year with a 2 1/2-month summer vacation, the LAUSD needs to build 200,000 new seats in the next five years. Even with year-round classes at every school and involuntary busing for most schools, the LAUSD will need to provide 60,000 new high school seats in the next five years. To make matters worse, it is hard to find environmentally safe land for school construction.

Then there are other safety requirements: The Field Act, for example, requires that schools be built to withstand "ground zero" in natural disasters; in other words, to survive intact at the epicenter of a major earthquake. While the safety of students must continue to be our No. 1 priority, we also must look at how the Field Act's requirements can be reformed so that nonpublic facilities may be used. How can the district lease vacant or commercial centers or plazas for school construction? This is a question for school districts and state leaders to resolve together.

Private sponsorship of charter schools would create seats for children, quickly. Charter schools are designed and governed by boards made up of teachers, parents, students and community organizations or private companies, but are still public schools subject to school board approval.

Future plans for downtown Los Angeles could contain charter schools operated by private entities ranging from a utility company to a law firm. Since charter schools may focus on specific subjects, like mathematics, science or the arts, a specific school could pick one subject and enroll a predetermined number of keenly interested students. In this way, charter schools are akin to magnet schools, which have been so successful. In order to provide physical education programs, schools could fence in the roofs of downtown office buildings; alternatively, downtown gyms, hotels or dance or martial arts studios could be utilized. To create student libraries, charter schools could develop working relationships with local libraries. "Hub" schools--in which a larger school's library, gymnasium or auditorium are used by smaller "satellite" schools--also make for an efficient use of space.

All of Los Angeles must become a seamless community working together to address and solve the crisis of new school construction. The LAUSD needs help from the private sector and the community in locating and acquiring commercial space and new school sites. Property owners and residents must embrace, not fear, a school in their community.

The LAUSD board and staff are committed to building schools that become thriving centers of communities, real neighborhood assets. To do this, the LAUSD, parents, teachers, community organizers and private partners must work together. With effort, Los Angeles can and will continue to thrive, spearheaded by a functioning public education system that produces graduates with the basic skills necessary to become productive citizens in our community.

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