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6 Private Campuses in Valley Face Eviction

Education: L.A. Unified indicates it won't renew leases. The schools say they could lose students if new sites aren't found.

January 09, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Unified School District officials say they do not plan to renew private schools' leases at six campuses in the western San Fernando Valley, sending the schools scrambling to find new homes or risk losing students because of the uncertainty.

Because the West Valley is one of the few areas in Los Angeles where the school district does not anticipate needing more campuses, officials at the private schools question the need for them to move. Land in the West Valley is hard to find, they say, particularly to suit schools.

The Woodland Hills schools poised to lose campuses over the next 17 months are Castlemont School, Kadima Hebrew Academy, Lewis Carroll Academy of the Arts, Lycee International de Los Angeles and Rabbi Max D. Raiskin West Valley Hebrew Academy. In West Hills, the West Valley Christian Church and School rents two campuses.

Collectively, the affected private schools enroll about 1,300 students. Another L.A. Unified campus, in Chatsworth, housed a Pinecrest school before the lease expired last July.

Recommendation May Be Made Next Week

L.A. Unified vacated the Valley campuses in the 1980s, said Kathi Littmann, the district's deputy chief executive for new construction. The former elementary schools are too far from central Los Angeles to receive students bused from those overcrowded areas, officials said, and the district's demographic projections indicate the campuses will not be needed for 10 or 15 years--if ever.

District staff members might make a recommendation for the campuses' future as early as next week. The possibilities include selling the land and using the proceeds to build schools in areas that badly need them, said Littmann, adding that continuing to lease the Valley campuses is not a moneymaker.

"It barely covers the cost of having the schools sit there," she said.

Castlemont officials, for instance, do not want to move when the school's 10-year lease ends in August. The campus of the former Collier Street Elementary School is "located centrally for all of our parents," said Sheryl Hausman, Castlemont's financial vice president. Since moving to the site in 1992, Castlemont has made improvements at its own expense, adding an athletic field, computer lab and repaving, she said.

"It's a nice area. The neighbors are great, and I think it benefits everybody around," Hausman said.

Since parents learned Castlemont could lose its 6 1/2-acre campus, enrollment has dropped from its peak of 335 last year.

"It's decreased because of the uncertainty," Hausman said, but she would not say how many students did not return when classes began last fall.

Castlemont is in "favorable negotiations" with L.A. Unified, Hausman said, but she declined to elaborate. The for-profit elementary school has offered to buy the campus, Littmann said, but because it is public land the school would have to bid against any other suitors. Extending the lease would also require bids, she said.

West Valley Christian Church is close to buying land in West Hills for its sanctuary and school, said Robert Lozano, administrator of the 400-student campus.

"We've looked at probably over 100 sites in the last four years," he said. "It's been a real arduous task."

The church and school's two leases expire in June 2003, which provides just enough time to make a move, Lozano said.

"If we didn't have a place located at this point and looking good, it definitely would have affected enrollment," he said.

Public Schools Have Room for the Students

If any of the schools close, Littmann said there is room for their students in the West Valley's public schools, which are among the district's least crowded.

But because many families chose the private schools for their religious instruction and other programs not found in public schools, Alan Shapiro, president of the West Valley Hebrew Academy, said he doubted the families would accept the district's invitation to enroll. Shapiro said his school owns land in the West Valley and hopes to move there after its lease expires in 2003.

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