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Taft High parents object to district's offer to share space with charter

At a town hall meeting, parents said they had no desire to share the school's facilities with Ivy Academia. The district had offered to turn over 24 classrooms to the charter. A school board member suggests residents file suit to block the move.

February 22, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles Unified School District trustee has advised Woodland Hills residents that they may have to sue the school system if they want to block 600 charter school pupils from being sent to Taft High.

Board member Steven Zimmer's suggestion came as hundreds of parents and students crowded into Taft's multipurpose room last week to protest the district's offer to turn over 24 of the high school's classrooms to Ivy Academia.

Ivy Academia's operators would send pupils in grades 6 through 12 to the west San Fernando Valley high school under the tentative offer.

"Ivy believes with an almost religious fervor that they have a right to be on a LAUSD campus," Zimmer told the crowd. "You're going to need to get an injunction — a temporary restraining order — to stop it."

Charter schools are guaranteed access to school district classrooms and other facilities under provisions of Proposition 39, approved by voters in 2000.

Banners and flyers posted on the Taft campus before Thursday night's 2 1/2-hour town hall organized by parents proclaimed that the high school has "No Vacancy" and no desire to share its gym, athletic fields, cafeteria, library or classrooms with the charter school.

Zimmer counseled parents that they would need to argue in court that introduction of the Ivy pupils, "if allowed to go forth, will cause a level of harm" that only a restraining order could stop.

A parade of students and parents told Zimmer and a panel of other school district officials that Ivy pupils will cause plenty of pain if they are squeezed into the 2,549-student high school.

"There is no room here. Where are they going to go?" asked Camille Saucier, a 16-year-old Taft junior.

Tenth-grader Rebekka Boyes, 15, referred to the charter school pupils as "Ivy leaguers."

"If they wanted to come to Taft, they should have enrolled at Taft, not Ivy," she said.

A representative of the Valley area's Parent Teacher Student Assn. warned that uniform-clad Ivy pupils would be met with hostility from high school students, prompting Zimmer to pledge that "Taft will be a safe school" no matter what happens.

Ivy Academia is not the first charter school to bump up against Taft parents and administrators. In 2008, a performing arts charter ran into opposition when district officials considered locating it at Taft.

School officials indicated that classroom allocations will be finalized in April. Several other campuses with unused classrooms have also been identified as potential charter school sites.

According to the school district, Taft had 18 empty classrooms last fall and an additional 18 rooms used for computer labs, college-information centers and other non-teaching purposes. Last week, however, a Taft administrator said the school has only eight unused classrooms out of a total of about 130.

It will be up to Taft's administrators "to figure out" where Ivy pupils are housed if the high school is used by the charter school, Parker Hudnut, executive director of L.A. Unified's innovation and charter schools division, told parents.

"This is an implementation nightmare," Hudnut said.

Representatives of Ivy Academia did not speak at the meeting, which several parents suggested was a sign of the charter school's "smugness" and an indication that the move-in agreement "is a done deal."

Ivy's school sites in nearby Warner Center, Canoga Park, Chatsworth and West Hills were closed for a four-day Presidents Day holiday, and administrators could not be reached for comment.

The charter school, which officials say is "educating the next generation of entrepreneurs," is no stranger to controversy, however.

Last year the co-founders of the school — Russian immigrants Eugene Selivanov and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich — were charged with stealing more than $200,000 in public funds through embezzlement, money laundering and filing false tax returns. The pair have denied wrong-doing and are no longer affiliated with Ivy Academia.

Linda Del Cueto, L.A. Unified's Valley-area superintendent, promised parents and students that their protest message would be delivered to incoming district Supt. John Deasy.

"The passion here has certainly shown me your concern," she said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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