A plan by the Los Angeles Unified School District has elicited cheers from some homeowners and interested parties to alleviate the tension brought on by colocation, a situation that allows charter schools to share campuses with traditional neighborhood schools.
But it has also provoked jeers from residents in the immediate area of Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista, where a colocation with Ocean Charter School exists and the land lease plan to offer a 2-acre plot to a charter school has been proposed.
In the Oct. 20 issue of The Argonaut, a group of residents and parents laid out their reasons why they are opposed to LAUSD offering the unoccupied land to a charter school, which they see as a pattern of the district neglecting traditional schools and favoring charter operators.
Ocean Charter and Green Dot Public Schools have applied to bid on the Walgrove plot, and many Venice and Mar Vista families whose children attend the elementary school are in favor of the LAUSD proposal.
Hundreds of Mar Vista and Venice parents have signed petitions submitted to LAUSD to establish a charter middle school on the Westside as an alternative to Mark Twain Middle School, but the land lease debate has sparked some disagreement between neighbors who live within several blocks of each other.
Eric and Sandi Wise, who live within 100 feet of Ocean Charter’s entrance and oppose the idea of another charter at the school site, acknowledged that there has been some conflict among neighbors who want a land lease and those who don’t, which manifests often in a good natured fashion.
But they also admit that some relationships have become strained – another consequence of the complex nature of education in today’s world.
“At the end of the day, there is tension,” Eric Wise admitted. “There have been some people that we didn’t know very well but now we don’t talk to them because they’ve been really aggressive towards us and make us out to be the bad guys.”
Barbara Einstein, a Venice mother whose three daughters attend a Green Dot colocation at Cowan Avenue Elementary School in Westchester, thinks a family’s educational circumstances are perhaps driving certain views about the Walgrove lease proposal.
“If you have no children in the public school system, no school- aged children or no children at all, a possible construction site seems obviously bothersome, with increased traffic unmanageable, and children’s noises (can be) a nuisance etc.,” she said. “Whereas in our case, we look at it as an exciting upgrade to our neighborhood.
“I realize that there are issues of traffic but feel that the benefits of a new school will by far outweigh the problems. In my mind, traffic problems can be solved,” Einstein continued.
“I am feeling very positive that there is a way to minimize the impact of traffic in the immediate neighborhood by carefully studying and planning it and this would definitively be something Green Dot would focus on.”
The Walgrove neighbors have countered with a petition of their own and have created a blog, http://neighborswhocare.blog.com, listing their reasons why they are against any charter in the area.
James Taylor, who lives near the Wises, is considering moving to his native Seattle. There are a few specific reasons related to education, he said, and one of them is what many of the homeowners interviewed believe to be the neglect of traditional schools.
“It’s tragic that I have to think about moving in order to give my son a better education,” Taylor lamented.
The homeowners and parents who oppose the charter plan say they are disappointed in LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista and Venice, because they say he has been less than responsive to their feelings and inquires.
Linnea von Wissmann worries about the prospect of more people coming to the neighborhood.
“We have had a major crime spree in the neighborhood, and my neighbor has been robbed,” she said. “I understand that people want the best for their children and they want to do a lifestyle change, but if we’re going to lose property values and quality of life, I would say that I would seek relief through the courts.”
Venice resident Troy Takaki, whose two daughters attend Walgrove and who also signed a petition to establish a Green Dot middle school, does not believe that his children’s school is being neglected.
“My children attend Walgrove Elementary and I don’t feel Walgrove is in any way suffering any setbacks because of LAUSD paying attention to charter schools,” he said. “Walgrove Elementary is continuing to become a better and better school every year.
“Our test scores are increasing dramatically. Our parent involvement is blossoming. We are definitely not suffering. We are flourishing.”
A presentation by Sandi Wise at a recent meeting of Mar Vista Community Council’s Education, Arts and Culture Committee indicates that the enrollment numbers of fifth graders at nine traditional elementary schools and two charters total 559, and the combined number of openings at five middle schools and magnets and two charters total 1,810 available spots at local schools for new sixth graders.
Ocean Charter and Green Dot were not included.
“There is plenty of space available at existing magnets or charter schools in the local area for incoming sixth graders,” Sandi Wise said. “It is completely unnecessary to build another 500-seat charter school in this neighbohod.”
Proposition 39 allows charter schools to utilize classrooms on traditional school campuses that a school district classifies as unused or underutilized. Offering the land lease at Walgrove can serve to lessen the acrimony that surfaced on Westside colocations last spring, LAUSD officials say.
While the main reason offered by Zimmer for the lease proposal was ostensibly to reduce the tension created by colocations due to Prop. 39, Eric Wise feels the unintended consequences of the ballot measure have been detrimental to public education.
“I think we all were duped into voting for that proposition that led us to believe we were helping the public schools,” Eric Wise said.
Another Walgrove homeowner, Mark Strand, offered his thoughts on why certain families choose charter schools, touching on a tenet that most charters stress: the requirement that parents participate in many aspects of their child’s academic experience.
“If parents get the general feeling and the overarching sense that certain (traditional) schools are no better than the others and they’re kind of mediocre, but the charter school is a possibility because of the parent involvement, that probably plays a part (in selecting a charter),” he surmised.
Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said his organization is aware that there are residents who do not want a charter school at Walgrove.
“While we are aware that a small group of neighbors do not want any new school to be built under any condition, we should also acknowledge that hundreds of families are interested in having either Ocean Charter School or Animo Westside Middle School in a permanent location in Venice,” Petruzzi told The Argonaut.
Eric Wise took exception to the Green Dot executive’s characterization of the opposition to the land proposal. He compared Petruzzi to a character from a popular Broadway musical and film from the 1960s.
“In my opinion, (Petruzzi) is much like the Harold Hill character from “The Music Man” on this charter school development. The local parents that he says support his plan think they are getting into Green Dot, no questions asked,” Wise asserted. “They probably don’t realize there is a lottery selection process and thousands of kids from all over the city will have just as likely a chance to attend this school as their kids.
“Secondly, what happens once this school is built, and the traffic has locked up the entire Westside with gridlock on Walgrove or Palms Boulevard?” Wise asked. “Is he going to be there to make things right? He will be onto the next town to start over again, building another school in a residential area that is not designed to service the local community.”
Only parents who are considered “founding parents” have guaranteed entry into Green Dot schools.
“That’s an unfortunate comment that Mr. Wise made,” Petruzzi stated. “Besides what it implies about me, he is also implying that parents cannot think for themselves and make their own decisions about their children’s education.”
Some homeowners have not ruled out possible legal action against LAUSD if their concerns are not addressed. Von Weissmann, who is a paralegal, said she would consider injunctive relief or economic damages against LAUSD if it doesn’t respond to the neighbors’ concerns.
“I believe that the school district has a duty to the community not to create a dangerous situation in a residential neighborhood,” she said.
“They have dropped a bomb in our neighborhood, and the idea that they are going to create more pollution, more traffic, gridlock and more people is wrong.”
The deadline to submit applications for the lease plan is Nov. 9.