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L.A. Unified gives insiders first chance at new charter campuses

District alters policy to allow teachers and administrators priority in submitting plans, instead of charter groups and other outsiders. Any group can still compete for existing, low-performing schools.

August 31, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Board member Steve Zimmer, above at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in June, questioned why charter organizations have shown little interest in bidding for existing campuses and instead focused on new schools.
Board member Steve Zimmer, above at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles Board of Education made a major change in its controversial, 2-year-old policy allowing charter groups and other outsiders to take over new campuses. The board unanimously agreed Tuesday to give teachers and administrators first chance at those schools.

If inside groups' plans are unacceptable, then charter operators, who mostly run schools that are nonunion, and others can apply.

The rules remain the same, however, for existing, low-performing schools; any group can compete for those campuses.

The district was preparing to accept new proposals for 15 new campuses by mid-October; that deadline has been changed to Nov. 18. Since the policy began, 11 charter schools won bids to run new district campuses and one existing campus is being operated by a charter organization. About 40 campuses are operated by inside district groups, mainly led by teachers.

Tuesday's unanimous board action also attempts to require the teachers union to be more flexible with the new schools. The board set a Nov. 1 deadline for the teachers union to agree to whatever performance evaluations, job requirements and other conditions the school staff are seeking in their plans, district officials said.

If the Los Angeles Unified School District and union cannot come to a deal, L.A. Unified reverts to the initial policy in which any group can compete for a new campus.

Teachers union leaders said the district could not force them to accept any conditions.

"It's all bargainable," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Charter schools are independent educational groups that are funded by public money and generally employ a younger workforce. Supporters say they give parents another option besides traditional public schools, while critics contend they cherry-pick the best students and avoid serving children with special needs.

Tuesday's vote came after a series of last-minute amendments and unusual public deal-making during a contentious board meeting. The board considered two other resolutions before finally approving the final version offered by Tamar Galatzan and amended by Richard Vladovic.

The board was initially set to consider a proposal by board member Steve Zimmer that would have given district groups the first opportunity to bid for new schools but it did not include the requirement that UTLA agree to teachers' proposals.

Zimmer questioned why charter organizations have shown little interest in bidding for existing campuses and instead focused on new schools.

"If choice is held with this almost religious fervor at our new facilities, how could it be so unimportant at our schools with the greatest need?" he said.

Board member Bennett Kayser tried unsuccessfully to get the board to go further: he proposed that all new campuses be excluded from the Public School Choice program.

The teachers union, which counts Kayser, Zimmer and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte as allies, has long been opposed to charters winning control of new campuses. The union sued the district last year to try to block charters from those schools but was unsuccessful.

Four other board members, Monica Garcia, Nury Martinez, Galatzan and Vladovic, have been supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa whose nonprofit has gained control of three campuses under the Public School Choice policy.

Charter operators were disappointed by the board action. "It's pretty much the death of Public School Choice as a collaboration with outside partners," said Judy Burton, the president of the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.

jason.song@latimes.com

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