Resolution asking to postpone new action on charter applications fails
By Gary Walker
A proposal by Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steven Zimmer requesting charter schools to voluntarily delay acting on new applications until a plan is crafted that takes all students into account was defeated 4-2 Nov. 13.
The resolution would have required LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to report back to the board within 60 days with an analysis and strategic plan that would ensure that all families with children in LAUSD schools have their educational choices respected. It would have also created a series of recommendations around how charter and traditional school students share facilities and what the risks are to them.
Charter schools are public schools but are not subject to many of the same requirements as their traditional school partners. One example is the number of special needs and English language learners that they are required to admit. They also typically do not have unionized educators.
Under Proposition 39, a voter-approved 2000 ballot initiative, charters can petition school districts for rooms at schools where classrooms are not in use or are deemed underutilized. While charter operators have the legal right to these rooms, some local principals and parents blame LAUSD for what they see as a giveaway to outside operators.
They also point to the loss of space that are often used as laboratories, computer rooms, intervention rooms, parent centers and in the case of one classroom at Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, the loss of the room where the student newspaper was created.
Colocations occur when charter and traditional school students share facilities. During the 2010-11 school year, District 4, which Zimmer represents, had the most in the entire school district.
The most contentious portion of Zimmer’s resolution was his proposal asking to address how the use of facilities balances the needs of both charter students as well as traditional school pupils when schools are involved in colocations.
Board Member Richard Vladovic called Zimmer’s motion unnecessary and asked Deasy for his opinion on Zimmer’s resolution.
“I think this resolution is not necessary,” the superintendent replied.
Vladovic said Prop. 39 had been voted into law by the electorate and any discussion of it was always contentious.
“I’m tired of polarizing people,” he said.
The public hearing had an emotional tone, with testimony from charter supporters and opponents passionately arguing for their respective causes, and some became tearful as they spoke.
Zimmer appeared to be taken aback by the reaction to his resolution by charter supporters in the audience as well as by some of his colleagues.
“I’m puzzled by the suggestion that this is a solution without a problem,” he said. “Why is there an objection to us having a plan and a strategy?”
Zimmer said the audience’s personal experiences had merit and should be considered.
“We’ve heard stories where charters have transformed people’s lives and we’ve heard stories where that has not been the case,” he told the board. “Despite what’s been said, this is not about closing a single charter school or denying anyone their choice.”
Choice has been the buzz word for many charter advocates. They note that parents are entitled to make the best choices for their children’s education and the charter movement is driven largely by parental choice.
Prior to the board hearing, charter supporters held a rally outside LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Members of the California Charter Association attended and assisted in organizing the rally.
Zimmer modified an earlier version of his resolution that was originally slated to be heard Oct. 9. In his initial resolution, the school board member sought to place a moratorium on charter schools as well as increased accountability for them.
“We feel like he showed his intent with the first resolution,” said Sierra Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the state charter association. “We are 100 percent for accountability and providing good schools for all kids, but this resolution does not do this.”
Karen Wolfe, whose son and daughter are students at Marina Del Rey Middle School, supported Zimmer’s motion. She also seemed perplexed that charter proponents would not back a data-sharing concept.
“It’s confusing to me why they would oppose this,” said Wolfe, a co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Education Committee.
Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the state charter association, applauded the board’s vote.
“We’re proud that the LAUSD board responded favorably to the parents who have shown the need and urgency in ensuring all families have access to high-quality school options,” he said after the meeting.
Zimmer, who is seeking reelection next year, explained his decision to alter his earlier resolution, which included conversations with attorneys for the district.
“I have chosen to make these changes after listening to input and feedback from the community as well as conversations with LAUSD’s legal team. The revised resolution addresses concerns over the previously proposed oversight commission, the mandate for charters to adopt (the Integrated Student Information System) and the perception that the resolution would create a moratorium on new charters,” he said last month.
“This resolution is about balancing choice and equity. At this point, with over 100,000 students in charter schools, the Board of Education must consider what regulations are necessary to ensure every family has access to choice, that access to choice is equitable and that one family’s choice does not negatively impact another family’s access to quality public education.”
Zimmer’s motion highlighted the animosity surrounding colocations, particularly at some Westside schools that are in his district.
Mar Vista and Grand View Boulevard elementary schools in Mar Vista and Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice fought off attempts by charter operators to colocate at their schools two years ago. School representatives said colocations would harm their respective schools’ current educational programs.
Additionally, some neighborhood schools have seen a resurgence in attention from local families that are working to attract students from the immediate neighborhood, and parents and administrators say they need the rooms for the new students.
Zimmer said that he is not against charters but he also believes there is more to creating better schools than just choice.
“I do believe that competition is one lever for change, but it is not the only lever for change,” he stressed.
Another component of the resolution sought to have charters and LAUSD share best practices. Zimmer and others believe there are policy disparities between LAUSD and charters regarding discipline, parent engagement, facilities and enrollment.
Deasy claimed that this provision was also unnecessary because charters and the district already share data. §