The agenda for the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on March 13 will have particular significance to Mar Vista and Venice residents, as well as adult students who take classes in both communities.
The board’s considerable agenda will include the request for proposal to build a charter school at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista. A school that uses the Waldorf-based curriculum, Ocean Charter School, was awarded the right to construct the school in January over Green Dot Public Schools, another charter organization.
Both schools submitted budget and construction plans, among other criteria to the district last fall through a request for proposal process. If Ocean Charter is approved, an environmental review will begin later this year.
During the environmental analysis, the public will be allowed to lodge their concerns with the project, which could take approximately 14 to 16 months, according to LAUSD.
A second major agenda item is a budget proposal that could eliminate funding for adult education as well as arts for K-5 education in order to reduce a projected $557 million shortfall next year. Students who attend two schools in Venice, the Venice Adult Community School and the Venice Skills Center, could have their education interrupted if the board enacts the cutbacks.
Several homeowners who live within three blocks or less of Walgrove are angry that Ocean Charter could be allowed to build another school near their homes. A group of them who have long had their differences with the charter school are considering taking legal action if the board approves the request for proposal.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer has previously stated that the decision to offer the land at Walgrove was a difficult one and he reiterated that sentiment in a recent interview. “I’m not sure that was the right choice,” Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, told The Argonaut. “This was really motivated by not knowing what else to do.”
Troy Takaki, whose daughters attend Walgrove, thinks the process that LAUSD used to make the decision on which school should have been awarded the land lease should be modified.
“Mr. Zimmer should have never promised that we would be part of the process if we were not going to be allowed to be,” said Takaki, who was one of hundreds of local parents who signed petitions to support a Green Dot middle school in the Venice/Mar Vista area.
LAUSD did not hold any public hearings while the two charter schools’ offers were being considered.
“(Zimmer) told hundreds of parents, community members and elected officials that we would have a chance to have our voices heard, but once the (request for proposal) process started he said that he could not talk to us or answer any questions,” Takaki continued. “There was no opportunity for the parents, neighbors and staff at Walgrove Elementary to voice our opinion.”
Parents from both charter schools as well as the Walgrove neighbors were somewhat skeptical about LAUSD’s Facilities Division, which is in charge of construction, being in charge of the procedures that led to choosing the eventual site awardee.
“Even if the LAUSD facilities department and school board ended up disagreeing with us, it would have been nice for us to have been allowed to write a letter that could have been part of the RFP process,” said Takaki, who plans to attend the board meeting. “Instead, all we can do is write letters of protest afterwards.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council sent a letter to the board in December upon learning that LAUSD was considering slashing the adult education budget.
“The California Education Code (Sections 8500, 12050-12060) specifically states that all adults in California are entitled to certain rights that include the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to participate effectively in today’s economy and society and participate in courses designed to meet the particular needs of the local community,” wrote Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks.
“Dismantling such a program is not only shortsighted and illegal, but it is also an unconscionable act that could result in leaving many individuals and families without access to much needed resources. We urge you to abandon this decision, guarantee job programs and open your discussions and criteria for such a decision to the public immediately.”
The Venice board also asked LAUSD Sept. 1 to consider a middle school at the Walgrove site.
Advocates for K-5 arts education and adult schools flooded the boardroom last month when the district was considering slashing both programs. Many elementary schools, like Broadway Elementary School in Venice, do not have art teachers because they are usually among the first to be laid off by school districts. Often they are forced to turn to outside groups for assistance.
Broadway is being helped by Cedars Sinai Medical Center through its “Share and Care” art therapy initiative. The school’s students created a multicultural mural last month.
Zimmer visited the Venice Skills Center March 1 to talk with students regarding the March 13 vote. His Feb. 14 budget amendment delayed the vote on potential cuts to adult education and art in elementary schools in the hope that LAUSD could produce a revenue stream that would help reduce its multi-million-dollar budget deficit next year.
“Our partners, our employees, our families have sacrificed more than we ever imagined they would,” Zimmer told the board last month. “This amendment creates a pathway and builds a moment of opportunity to work together.”
Students from the Venice Community Adult School and the Venice Skills Center attended the Feb. 14 meeting to show support for preserving adult education funds.
Evan Labb, a parent at Ocean Charter who has been serving as the school’s spokesman, did not return calls for comment on the Walgrove land lease.