Following the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education’s March 13 rejection of Ocean Charter School’s application to construct a new 500-seat building on the campus of Walgrove Avenue Elementary School, parents and educators at the K-5 school are looking toward the future without a colocation.
John Fisher, a parent at Walgrove, said the euphoria of not having a competing school built on the campus was short-lived.
“Initially the mood was what I would call joyful relief. At the same time many Walgrove families have ties to Ocean Charter families so there was also empathy that Ocean Charter is still looking for a good permanent solution,” he said. “But honestly, everything was over in a day. So after a few celebratory hugs, it was time to get back to work.”
Yossie Ziff, a kindergarten teacher at Walgrove, said the faculty has been focused on improving the elementary school’s academic standing and increasing its enrollment.
“We have always thought that we were going to succeed no matter what, but (the land lease) is just one thing less to worry about now,” the teacher said.
Colocation has been occurring more frequently on the Westside in District 4 than anywhere else in LAUSD. Charter schools began sharing campus space, or colocating, with traditional schools after the passage of Proposition 39, a 2000 ballot measure that allows charter schools to utilize classrooms on traditional school campuses that a school district classifies as unused or underutilized.
Ocean Charter has been on Walgrove’s campus for five years. The charter’s fourth through eighth grades take classes in the neighborhood school’s bungalows, which will be removed by state decree at the end of the school year.
The LAUSD Facilities Division approved Ocean Charter’s application in January over Green Dot Public Schools and recommended that the Board of Education award them the land lease. By a 4-3 vote, the charter school’s petition was rejected.
Additionally, LAUSD does not plan to seek another agreement at Walgrove.
“At this point in time, the district is not pursuing any further actions in regards to a possible land lease at the school site,” LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber told The Argonaut.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, voted for the land lease agreement. As the author of the proposal, he attempted to explain his reasoning at the board meeting for recommending that the district offer a charter school the land at Walgrove.
“This has been a very, very painful process for the community. The Proposition 39 ramifications have also been very, very painful for the community,” Zimmer told his colleagues at the board meeting.
Speaking to the Walgrove teachers and parents, Zimmer commended them on how they have handled five years of sharing their campus with Ocean Charter during a time that the elementary school’s infrastructure has deteriorated and its test scores have risen.
“This is an incredible burden that has been placed on you,” the board member told his Walgrove constituents. “You have been faced with colocation while at the same time trying to enhance your school.”
Fisher said he has not heard of any plans to refurbish Walgrove.
“We have a lot of ideas circulating. But at the same time, real money can be used to solve real problems both at Walgrove and every other district school,” he said. “Perspective will go a long way during this time.
Asked if Walgrove would receive any physical upgrades soon, Zimmer pledged, “As soon as Measure Q comes, they will be priority.”
Measure Q is a 2009, $7 billion state school bond initiative that will allocate $1.6 billion for the creation of small schools, $2.68 billion for school safety measures, $500 million for environmental improvements at schools and $450 million for charter school construction.
More than two weeks after the board’s vote, feelings are still raw about the charter school losing the land lease bid. Venice resident Terrence Pearce took exception that none of the board members offered an explanation as to why they chose to deny the charter school the land lease agreement.
“At the very least the members should have to explain publicly some powerful rationale, other than the usual platitudes about local residents and congestion, for this shocking about-turn and failure to grant the land to anyone at all,” Pearce wrote.
“The taxpayers employ the LAUSD board and the members of that board should have to answer to the taxpayers involved in this particular instance for the apparently complete illogicality of their decision. At least those members who voted ‘yes’ could perhaps explain to us how it was that their good sense came to be overwhelmed by the majority.”
Fisher has a different opinion. “I think the (land lease option) was a creative attempt at a solution and I applaud Mr. Zimmer for what he was trying to do, which was to solve a problem – initially for Walgrove, and then of course, for whichever school won the award,” he said.
Although Zimmer voted in favor of the land lease agreement, Pearce called his vote “strategic.”
Ziff gave credit to the many Walgrove homeowners who live near the school that have offered their support to assist the school in any way they can, several of whom attended the March 13 board meeting to ask the district to deny Ocean Charter the land lease. “That’s the thing that’s so incredible: values of the neighbors and parents at Walgrove,” he said.
The Argonaut attempted to contact LAUSD Board President Monica Garc’a for comment on her vote or for her thoughts on why the other board members voted against the land lease. Garc’a did not return emails or phone calls.
Zimmer said the board members had a very difficult decision in front of them. “I think that my colleagues looked at a very complicated scenario with competing complexities and they made their decision,” he said. “I was never going to try to influence my colleagues to make a precedent setting vote on a competitive building project on the same property.”
He also feels that Ocean Charter’s decision to opt for a K-8 school at the Walgrove site, which would have created a situation with a new school competing against one badly in need of an upgrade, worked against them.
“That was their choice and I respect that, but that played a role in the ultimate board vote,” the board member said. “That said, they played by the rules and should have been allowed to build their school. Maybe not (at Walgrove), but they deserved to have a chance to build that school.”
Ziff said his school has been actively building an arts oriented program and has created an enrichment venture where teachers at the school go to classrooms they don’t normally teach on a weekly basis and teach something that they have a passion for to all grade levels.
“I often talk about surfing, which I love to do,” he said.
Zimmer concurs with Ziff on the elementary school’s resolve. “I think that Walgrove can endure just about anything,” the school board member said. “They have a very solid foundation.”
Ziff said the land lease controversy has also allowed Walgrove to showcase itself to perspective parents. “The attention that it created gave us an opportunity to show what we’ve been doing here,” he said.
Walgrove Principal Olivia Adams did not return phone calls for comment.
Regardless of the outcome of the board’s vote on the Walgrove land lease, Zimmer said the consequences of colocation have not been abated.
“This process will not solve the Prop. 39 problem on the Westside,” he told board colleagues.