The Los Angeles Unified School District was dealt a jarring legal defeat June 27 when a Los Angeles Superior Court found that the district had not acted in accordance with the guidelines of an education related ballot initiative that became law 12 years ago.
The California Charter Schools Association brought the legal action and the order compels LAUSD to restructure the formula that is used when offering charter schools space at traditional school campuses.
Proposition 39, a 2000 voter approved ballot measure, provides charter operators with the opportunity to have space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. School districts tender offers to charters at schools where these classrooms exist and charters then determine to accept or deny them.
Ricardo Soto, the charter association’s general counsel, said the primary complaint was the district’s formula for calculating the number of classrooms that it was offering charter schools.
“It was our feeling that the district was not complying with the settlement,” Soto told The Argonaut.
The original legal action against LAUSD was filed May 17, 2007 for what the charter association believed was a lack of compliance with Prop. 39. A court settlement was reached April 22 of the following year but the association filed to have the terms of the settlement enforced May 24, 2010.
Soto said the charter association filed a motion for enforcement of the settlement after reviewing LAUSD’s most recent offers to charter schools in May. LAUSD makes a final offer to charters in April and the schools have until the beginning of May to accept or reject the offers.
“We are pleased with the court’s finding. While we understand the district has voiced concerns about how the ruling may create compliance challenges, our goal is to ensure that all public school students in Los Angeles, including those who attend charter schools, have equitable access to safe and adequate facilities,” California Charter Schools Association President Jed Wallace said in a statement.
“Under the law, all public school students – including charter school students – have the right to access quality publicly funded school facilities, yet year after year, charters face uncertainty and inequity when it comes to identifying and securing facilities for their staff, students and families.”
Superior Court Judge Terry Green wrote, “LAUSD’s use of ‘norming ratios’ to determine whether the number of classrooms to provide charter schools in LAUSD’s Prop. 39 facilities violated Section 11969.3(b)(1) of the Prop. 39 Implementing Regulations, and LAUSD thus failed to provide facilities to charter schools ‘in the same ratio of teaching stations as those provided to students in the school district attending comparison groups.”
Implementing Prop. 39 has led to dozens of colocations, where charter schools share facilities and classrooms at traditional schools, throughout LAUSD. In District 4, which includes Westchester, Del Rey, Venice and Mar Vista, there have been more colocations than anywhere in the school district, according to LAUSD.
LAUSD frequently offered parent centers, intervention rooms and sometimes laboratories to charters, creating a degree of hostility at some schools. Last year, three elementary schools – Mar Vista, Grand View Boulevard and Westminster Avenue in Venice – launched public campaigns to keep charters off their campuses after LAUSD offered charter classrooms there.
Green Dot Public Schools withdrew its offer to accept classrooms at Westminster and two other charters chose not to accept offers at the Mar Vista schools.
In an effort to address the growing animosity that exists at some schools where colocations have been ongoing for five years or more, LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer offered a 2-acre parcel at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista to a charter organization through a bidding process that would have allowed a charter operator to build its own school.
Ocean Charter School, which was colocating with Walgrove, and Green Dot Public Schools were the only two charters to bid on the land. Ocean Charter won the bid but the school board voted against offering the charter school a land lease agreement in March.
Ocean Charter has accepted an offer for classrooms at the new Playa Vista Elementary School.
Wallace said his organization and other independent charters have tried to be collaborative with LAUSD in trying to convince the school district to comply with the law.
“For years, the charter school community has worked with LAUSD to identify facilities solutions, and we believe the district can comply with the law without impacting or displacing district students, or further burdening charter school students,” he said. “We have communicated our willingness to work with the district on solutions.
Zimmer, who represents District 4, told The Argonaut that he will ask LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to challenge the results of the charter association lawsuit.
“I am absolutely encouraging the superintendent to defy the order,” he asserted. “This could have very, very serious consequences for all public school families.”
Soto said he has talked to LAUSD’s attorneys to determine which charters are interested in new offers.
“Having talked to some of our schools, some (traditional schools) might have extra space to offer charters,” the attorney said.
Zimmer said it was unfair that charter schools, which unlike traditional public schools have virtually no regulations, are not held to similar standards.
“The allocation and use of facilities in a public sphere come with regulatory guidelines,” the school board member noted. “If charters seek release from those guidelines, I don’t understand why we would allocate rooms without regulatory equity.”
The school district is required to recalculate the number of classrooms that it will offer charter schools by mid-July, Soto said.
Zimmer believes his district will bear the brunt of any adverse consequences, such as the loss of parent centers or intervention rooms, more than anywhere else in LAUSD.
“I don’t think any other district will be more immediately affected (than District 4),” he said.
LAUSD did not respond to inquiries pertaining to the lawsuit.