Children of parents who have signed petitions supporting a Green Dot Public Schools charter middle school on the Westside will not receive priority entrance status if the charter is awarded a land lease at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista, says a Los Angeles Unified School District board member.

“There is no arrangement or agreement for an Amino Westside charter school that gives preference to any student,” LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer told The Argonaut last month.

Some Walgrove parents who signed the petition claim that they were told by Ocean Charter School parents that local families who support a Green Dot school will have a guaranteed spot for their children if the charter organization establishes a middle school in the Venice/Mar Vista area, and that is one of the primary reasons for their support.

“(Acceptance into a Green Dot Animo Charter Middle School) will not be geographically determined,” Zimmer added.

Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi backed Zimmer’s statement about the acceptance procedures into one of their schools.

“Signing the petition makes it clear that you do not have guaranteed seats at any of our schools,” Petruzzi confirmed.

Charter schools typically operate on a lottery basis and students citywide are eligible to apply.

One online post on the website OpenDaily inaccurately accuses a Walgrove parent of not disclosing the fact that “as a founding member (of Amimo Venice Middle School), his children get into the school automatically, while everyone else’s kids will have to apply by lottery.” Founding parents of a charter typically have a better-than-average chance of getting accepted.

The claim of guaranteed entrance for families that back a Green Dot middle school on the Walgrove campus is one of a series of subplots surrounding Zimmer’s June 15 announcement that LAUSD will be offering unoccupied land at the elementary school to a charter school in an effort to lessen the burden of colocation between traditional neighborhood schools and charters.

A request for proposal will be issued for a 2-3 acre parcel at the elementary school campus, where Ocean Charter School is currently in a colocation with Walgrove.

One component of Proposition 39, which was approved by the electorate 11 years ago, provides charter operators with the opportunity to share campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.

This controversial provision is called colocation and has triggered animosity between traditional and charter schools on the Westside. Zimmer hopes that by allowing a charter operator the opportunity to build a school on the unoccupied space at Walgrove, it will reduce the need for a colocation in District 4, which he represents.

Charters are public, independently operated institutions that in many cases do not employ unionized teachers and have fewer students than traditional schools.

The faculties at Ocean Charter and Green Dot, thus far the only charters that have indicated that they will be applying for the land lease, are unionized.

Petruzzi said the more than 400 signatures that have been gathered for a Green Dot middle school in the Venice/Mar Vista area reflects a desire for another middle school option by local families. Currently, Mark Twain Middle School is the only traditional LAUSD middle school serving Venice and Mar Vista.

“We have had a lot of requests from parents to bring a middle school to their area,” Petruzzi noted. “There are an incredible group of parents in Venice and Mar Vista who are very involved in their children’s education.”

Coby Dahlstrom, whose son will be entering fifth grade at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, is a founding parent of Green Dot Animo Middle School. She supports the charter organization because of its commitment to diversity and its attempts to reflect the demographics of the communities where they have schools.

“From what I understand, their tenets really do stand for a correct representation of the community around them,” Dahlstrom said. “They seek to reform the quality of education.”

Petruzzi, a Venice resident, said it was unfortunate that there are a number of rumors circulating around the land lease proposal, like the supposed guaranteed acceptance of some Walgrove children. “It’s a pity that it has come to this, because we all want the same thing for our children – a good quality education,” he said.

Troy Takaki, who has two daughters at Walgrove, signed a petition that was circulated by Walgrove parent Barbara Einstein three years ago.

“I think that the Westside needs a good alternative to Mark Twain,” Takaki said. “I really like what Green Dot has done in other areas of the city and with what they have done in helping minority students get into college.”

There is also a sentiment among Ocean Charter parents and its administration that as a larger charter organization, Green Dot has certain advantages that they could use in the bidding contest for the Walgrove parcel.

“I’m not really clear why they feel that way,” said Petruzzi. “We’re stretched for resources like other schools and organizations.”

Zimmer also sought to assuage Ocean Charter’s concerns regarding any favoritism toward Green Dot or other charters that might apply.

“This will be a public, transparent process. It was constructed that way intentionally,” the school board member said. “No deal has been struck, no arrangement has been made with another charter partner and there is no effort to displace a certain school.”

Ocean Charter supporters have been rallying support for their school over the last several weeks and have expressed hope that the school district will take into account that their fourth through eighth grade classes have been on the Walgrove campus for several years, as well as the school’s test scores and level of parental involvement.

Like other parents, Takaki looks at the broader consequences for the charter that is not awarded the proposed site. “I do feel that it is a bit unfair because there is no Plan B (for the charter that is not chosen) and there’s been no discussion about this. What’s going to happen to the school that does not win the land lease?” he asked.

Petruzzi acknowledged that Green Dot has been actively recruiting students for its sixth grade class, where it is involved in a colocation with Cowan Elementary School in Westchester. “We have established a past relationship with the community, and we’re responding to a demand for a local middle school choice,” he reiterated.

Green Dot sought a colocation at Westminster in February but withdrew its petition after facing concerted opposition from the elementary school’s faculty and parents, including some who signed petitions for a Green Dot middle school.

Takaki still supports LAUSD choosing Green Dot over Ocean Charter for the land lease, even though there is no assurance that his daughters will be accepted. “That doesn’t change anything,” he said. “I would love an arrangement where Walgrove students get in, but there are no guarantees of that happening.”

He also would like to see a middle school at the Walgrove campus, “even if it’s not a Green Dot school.”

Dahlstrom, who opposed Green Dot colocating with Westminster, sees space-sharing between schools as an unintended consequence of a larger problem.

“Colocation shouldn’t be an ‘us vs. them’ issue between community schools and charters either. It is bigger than that,” she asserted. “What we have is a state budget crisis, followed by a real estate issue.”

Takaki said despite the tension and anxiety that has risen since the land lease was announced, he feels that there is a silver lining to all of the discussion around which charter is the best choice for a school on the Walgrove campus.

“It’s opened up a dialogue that wasn’t there before,” he said. “From now on, people are going to pay attention to Walgrove.”

LAUSD officials say the entire process, including selection of an operator, construction and the review process of the California Environmental Quality Act, would take approximately three to three and a half years.

Zimmer announced Aug. 16 that the request for proposal will tentatively be released Sept. 15

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