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Teachers union files lawsuit over charter takeovers

UTLA argues that handing new L.A. Unified campuses over to charter operators would be a violation of state law.

December 22, 2009|By Howard Blume

The union representing Los Angeles teachers filed a lawsuit Monday to block the potential hand-over of new campuses to charter schools under the district's groundbreaking and controversial school-reform strategy.


FOR THE RECORD:
Teachers union lawsuit: An article in Tuesday's Section A about a teachers union lawsuit over a controversial school reform measure referred to a charter group as Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools. The group is ICEF Public Schools, which was originally known as the Inner City Education Foundation. —

Charter-school advocates defended the plan's legality as did the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Board of Education approved a resolution in August to turn over 12 long-struggling campuses and 18 new ones to bidders from inside or outside the district, including some charter operators.

The long-anticipated lawsuit contends that under state law a new school can only become a charter if at least 50% of its permanent teachers petition for it.

The union argues a new school must be staffed by district teachers who would then have the option of converting it to a charter. Under the district's plan, a charter could move into a new school and hire its own faculty.

Charters operate independently of local districts and are not bound by some rules that govern traditional schools. Most charters are non-union.

The 30 campuses up for takeover represent hundreds of jobs for union teachers, whose numbers have been shrinking because of declining student enrollment, budget cuts and the migration of 60,000 students to charter schools.

Despite the litigation, United Teachers Los Angeles supports aspects of the bidding plan because it allows groups of teachers to vie for schools.

If the lawsuit succeeds, "we will have gained valuable time to continue to push for local control of schools, where teachers, parents, administrators and community members are the driving force behind the education program at that school," said union President A.J. Duffy.

The lawsuit also asserts that recent voter-approved school bonds can't be used to build schools for charters unless the money was set aside for that purpose.

The district already has agreed to let charters operate in a handful of new schools built with such bonds.

Mike Piscal, chief executive of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, a charter group, has applied for one new and one existing campus. "We have kids stuck in these failing schools that are failing because the union has created all these rules and regulations so that no one can be held accountable," he said. "And the union hasn't really looked after its own members either. We have 70 applicants for every open teaching position."

School board President Monica Garcia accused the union of pursuing an adults-first agenda.

"We are facing a crisis," Garcia said in a statement. "We need adults to work together for our students. The status quo is not working for too many young people."

The deadline for school takeover proposals is Jan. 11; the board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations of Supt. Ramon C. Cortines in February.

District officials have said their role is to approve a sound education plan for each of the 30 campuses -- whether they eventually operate as charters or not.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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