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L.A. school board to decide who will run new schools

Various groups are vying to run the 7 new high schools and 6 other campuses. The board is under pressure from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to reward charter schools.

March 15, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Brianna Avila, left, at center, 14, of Granada Hills Charter High School lines up with fellow students during the second and final day of nonbinding public voting on who should run a new high school in the west Valley. The Los Angeles Unified School District and Granada Hills Charter High School are competing for control of a new high school that will relieve overcrowding in the west San Fernando Valley. Part of the process involves nonbinding community votes: Parents, high school students, school employees and community members cast ballots in separate tallies.
Brianna Avila, left, at center, 14, of Granada Hills Charter High School… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

Under intense pressure from various interest groups, the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday is scheduled to decide who will run seven new high schools and six other campuses. It is the second major round of a singular, much-watched experiment to improve academic achievement by turning over schools to groups inside and outside the nation's second-largest school system.

The scale of the project is staggering: The seven new high schools add up to more full-size, comprehensive high schools than in the cities of Glendale and Burbank combined. And, every Los Angeles Unified campus that goes to an independently operated charter school means a further reduction in district jobs, exacerbating a budget crisis that already could result in thousands of layoffs.

Last year, teams of district teachers were the big winners, emerging with the vast majority of campuses. This year, once again, the school board is under tremendous pressure, including from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to reward more independently operated charter schools. The mayor is allied with a board majority he helped elect.

Nowhere has the contentiousness been greater than over the new $127-million campus in Granada Hills, where a joint effort by local district teachers and administrators is competing against Granada Hills Charter High School.

Granada Hills High, in the prosperous West Valley, became a self-governing charter school in 2003, taking possession of a district facility and taking advantage of state rules that allow it to receive about $1,000 more per student, according to the district. The school capitalized on its expansive grounds by accepting about 1,500 additional students on permits, growing to an enrollment of more than 4,100.

The most pertinent difference, said Brian Bauer, Granada's executive director, is sound, local management: "We are able to spend the dollar at the school site."

And the new Valley high school, said Bauer, could reap the same benefits: classes of 25 students per teacher instead of 40, a longer school day and a longer school year, not to mention full summer-school offerings.

Choose my operation, Bauer said at a public meeting, one of the state's top-performing high schools with a waiting list of more than 2,000 — or choose L.A. Unified.

Linda Del Cueto, the local area superintendent, in turn, noted that about 45% of Granada's students are classified as gifted. The district, she said, does equally well with gifted students. District-run high schools near Granada Hills have lower test scores than the charter, Del Cueto said. But when matched against schools across California that serve similar student populations, the West Valley L.A. Unified schools rate as well or better than Granada Hills, she said. The district proposal includes a performing arts academy, a needed next step for existing arts programs in elementary and middle schools, she added.

Late last week, Supt. Ramon Cortines disclosed his decision, in a close call, to recommend the district plan over Bauer's.

Half a city away, a strikingly different scenario played out in the bidding for a new high school in Glassell Park. There, regional administrator Dale Vigil brought charter schools and teacher groups together for planning sessions and tours of the $239-million campus.

Six groups, including two charter operators, are competing for five small academies. All have agreed to share common space and participate in shared sports teams.

Such collaboration is "the way it should be," Cortines said. He has recommended Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter group, and said the other plans need further development.

Cortines wants a district team, the only bidder, to devise a better plan for an East L.A. high school by April 25. And he rejected two competing plans for Muir Middle School in South L.A, where he wants staff to re-interview for their jobs under district supervision.

All told, one or more charter-school groups are applying at nine of the 13 campuses, some of which will be divided into multiple small schools. Cortines recommends that charters and more traditional schools share a few of these sites.

The school board will make the final decision on the 10 new campuses and three low-performing ones.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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