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LAUSD, the School Bully

September 13, 2003

The green and white banners along Zelzah Avenue proclaim Granada Hills High School to be "the nation's largest charter school." There's more than size to boast about at the tidy 4,000-student campus. Now in control of the school's $28-million budget, parents and staff found money over the summer to add two extra weeks of class time along with additional teachers and staff members, to cut class size and to launch before- and after-school English and math classes for struggling students. And that, promises Principal Brian Bauer, is just the beginning.

You'd think the poobahs at the Los Angeles Unified School District's headquarters would be delighted. But instead of a pat on the back, Granada's administrators say they are getting pecked to death by ducks.

Last May, the school board granted Granada the charter status it wanted, ceding downtown administrative control and giving it to parents, teachers and staff. Charter status at Granada means that instead of having decisions made at LAUSD headquarters, staff and parents at the school are in charge of everything from curriculum to where they buy pencils and hamburger buns.

Because these decision makers can also set class hours and campus salaries, the charter option has spawned resistance from district bureaucrats and unions. But board members, faced with a solid application from a top school, couldn't find a good reason to say no. It did give Granada Hills just one year -- instead of the usual five years -- to prove itself, a nearly impossible task.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 20, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 24 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Granada High School -- An editorial last Saturday incorrectly implied that Granada High School's 7:36 a.m. start time was much earlier than in past years. First period previously began at 7:40 a.m. Granada "banks" the extra minutes to allow for more teacher planning meetings during the school year.

Even though the school technically governs itself, state law lets districts charge charter schools for oversight. Granada is handing over $350,000 this year, but instead of support or oversight, Bauer says he gets one hassle after another. Over the summer, for example, district officials raided Granada's piggy bank, laying claim to $100,000 that parents and local merchants chipped in last year. When Bauer howled, the bureaucrats agreed to return the money. The district siphoned off $1.2 million to reimburse past workers' compensation and campus upgrades. What upgrades? Bauer asks.

Schools Supt. Roy Romer insists he supports charters. But he worries that the charter option will tempt mostly higher-achieving schools to depart the district, leaving him with the chaotic, low-performing campuses. By making it tough for the school to renew its charter, maybe he figures he'll discourage other schools from applying.

Romer's right that charter status alone will not raise student achievement, stop lunchtime fistfights or revive burned-out teachers. And some fear that changes Granada's governing board has made -- for example, starting first period at 7:36 a.m. -- may help neighborhood children while deterring students who already ride buses an hour in the far-flung LAUSD. But the district's pettiness, whether through design or ineptitude, drains time and resources from other struggling campuses and infuriates families.

Next month, Granada will ask the school board to extend its charter for four years. The LAUSD should give the dedicated teachers and parents at this school a real, not begrudging, chance.

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