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Connecting the Dots

Confusion over a petition to turn Locke High into a charter school is another mark against the LAUSD.

June 06, 2007

JUST WHEN IT LOOKED like the rebel forces at Locke High School were going to wrest their school from the inept clutches of the Los Angeles Unified School District and convert it to a Green Dot charter, the empire struck back. The district invalidated the charter application last week, saying the petition no longer had the requisite majority of teachers on board. Seventeen teachers, the district says, want to rescind their signatures because they misunderstood what they were signing.

Can't they read? Didn't they do their homework and speak to colleagues at other Green Dot schools? At this point, the school board should step in and rap its administrators on the knuckles -- because only it has the authority to reject a petition for lack of signatures. And if it doesn't do so, we hope that this will be the first order of business for the new school board, which takes over next month. Voters want charters, and they want the school district to clear the way for them to happen.

District officials are adamant that they did not pressure teachers at Locke to change their minds, suggesting that teachers had opted for Green Dot partly out of ignorance about the district's alternative plans for reform. What alternative plans? The district -- along with the teachers union -- has had decades to give students and parents a better school than Locke. Having failed to deliver, the district now owes them the chance to try something else.

That is the great promise and potential of charters, which create laboratories for innovation, places where educators can put more money into the classroom and test educational theories -- such as longer days, uniforms for students and more latitude for principals. Not all of those ideas will work, but if the district welcomes rather than fights them, it too can learn and adapt.

Instead, the district has resisted change. The result: There may be genuine confusion at Locke about Green Dot, but there's also a real atmosphere of fear at the school. After the principal attended a Green Dot meeting and spoke disparagingly of the LAUSD, he was ousted from his job and escorted from campus -- ostensibly for having allowed teachers to use class time to sign the charter petition. Even if teachers didn't read the petition carefully, that's the sort of handwriting on the wall anyone could see.

It's still unclear whether the teachers at Locke can rescind their signatures. One lesson Green Dot should take from this is that it must ensure that teachers truly are informed about the changes coming their way when they sign a charter petition. State statutes, however, clearly give school boards authority to deny charter applications if there aren't enough signatures. The current school board still has the chance to get this right. If it cannot bring itself to supervise a fair process, it should defer final judgment on Locke's petition and turn this matter over to a board that will -- the new school board.

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