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Charter school operators to run 7 more L.A. Unified campuses

The school board divvies up or relinquishes 10 new campuses, including seven new high schools, and three low-performing schools. Not all were sought by charters; some go to teachers and district-led groups.

March 16, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • School Supt. Ramon Cortines listens to speakers before the L.A. Board of Education votes on turning over 13 campuses to bidders inside and outside the school district.
School Supt. Ramon Cortines listens to speakers before the L.A. Board of… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

Major charter-school organizations won the right Tuesday to operate at seven of 13 schools under a policy that allows bidders inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to take control of new and academically struggling campuses.

Charter schools got most of what they wanted by the end of a 51/2-hour meeting in which the Board of Education divvied up or relinquished 10 new campuses, including seven new high schools, and three low-performing schools. About 20,000 students will be attending those schools next year.

District officials were lobbied hard to support more charter schools than last year, when groups of district teachers, often working with administrators, prevailed on most plans. This year, the recommendations of L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines included more charters, and a board majority went even further to cede control of district schools to outside organizations.

Cortines, for example, had wanted low-achieving Clay Middle School, in Athens, to be split between a team from the school and Green Dot Public Schools, a charter organization. He talked of the potential to demonstrate how a charter and a district operation could collaborate; charters are publicly funded and independently run.

Board President Monica Garcia pushed instead to have the entire school turned over to Green Dot.

Garcia, the closest ally of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was joined by the mayor's other allies in approving the full handover. Villaraigosa has spoken frequently of schools going to groups with "proven track records," a veritable mantra of charter-school applicants.

The board also overruled Cortines by giving a new Echo Park elementary school to the Camino Nuevo charter. He had favored a local group of teachers and residents because, he said, the charter's emphasis on teaching in Spanish in the early grades was not the right fit for all the students who would be attending that school.

But the board upheld Cortines' recommendation to give a much-contested new west San Fernando Valley high school to a district- and teacher-led proposal that includes a performing arts academy. Losing out was Granada Hills Charter High School, a high performer that just won the state's Academic Decathlon and has a waiting list of about 2,000 students.

"This is one of the hardest recommendations and votes I have taken," said board member Tamar Galatzan. Granada Hills is "really one of the jewels in my board district." The district plan "filled a gap we have in the Valley. We don't have a performing arts high school."

However, she also expressed concern about whether the district could afford such a program amid an ongoing budget crisis that could include the layoffs of thousands of teachers.

Altogether, seven of 11 charter school proposals prevailed. Other charter winners included: Synergy, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, PUC and Aspire — all well-established charter organizations. Teachers and district-led groups also prevailed; there weren't charter bids for every campus.

Another beneficiary of the board's aggressive posture was MLA Partner Schools, a nonprofit that won the right to control Muir Middle School, where employees will be required to re-interview for their jobs. Cortines recommended against MLA because of what he characterized as the group's mixed record at two high schools already under its control. He also noted that, as of next year, Muir will no longer feed into Manual Arts High School, an MLA campus.

MLA, which isn't a charter, operates schools under the union contract, so it has faced less opposition from charter-school opponents, including some leaders of the teachers union.

The MLA bid was resurrected by Garcia. MLA officials co-hosted a January fundraiser for Garcia's chief of staff Luis Sanchez, who is in a runoff for a school board seat. That event also raised money for Eric Lee, who unsuccessfully tried to defeat board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.

The day's events infuriated LaMotte. She was the lone vote against the entire final motion and expressed dismay at the overriding of Cortines.

"What's the purpose of this if we're not going to listen to the man," she said. "You need to get this political stuff out of your heads."

howard.blume@latimes.com

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