The application requesting permission by Goethe International Charter School in Del Rey to expand from an elementary school into a middle school was rejected by the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education April 5.

The charter organization, which features a German language immersion curriculum, has been sharing the campus of Marina Del Rey Middle School for three years. Goethe representatives are asking for five additional classrooms on the community school site campus for its growing student population, which would give it a total of 16.

Proposition 39, a ballot initiative passed in 2000, provides for charter operators to have equal access on community school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. Last year, the California Charter Association sued LAUSD, alleging that the district has been denying the access to campuses under Prop. 39.

John Mora, a member of the charter school’s board of trustees, is discouraged that the school board rejected Goethe’s application. “We’re very disappointed at the board’s decision,” Mora told The Argonaut.

But parents and teachers at the middle school were overjoyed that Goethe’s application was denied. Although they contend that they have nothing against charters or Goethe, they say the continual loss of classrooms that are critical to the school’s academic improvement could hamper its educational programs

“We’re in a good mood,” said Nancy Pierandozzi, the middle school’s magnet coordinator. “We won’t have to worry about competing grade levels now.”

Parents at the community school have asked their elected representatives to take note of their worries about losing classrooms that they feel are vital to Marina Del Rey’s improvement. Although its student population has decreased over the last few years, the school’s Academic Performance Index, which is a measurement of a California school’s academic progress, has climbed almost 100 points in four years.

“We, the parents of Marina Del Rey Middle School, are very concerned with the continuing encroachment of the Goethe International Charter School on our campus,” Jaime Reynoso, a parent at the middle school, told the school board last month. “You want to give away crucial classrooms and offices that are essential to the continuous improvement of our students’ education.

“The intervention classrooms have equipment necessary for the improvement of education. It is essential that this equipment remain available to all Marina teachers, when needed.”

The board questioned Goethe representatives on the school’s student demographics, which skew largely Caucasian. While Goethe, like all charter schools, selects its students via lottery, the surrounding neighborhoods are largely comprised of minority students. Some charter operators, like Green Dot Public Schools, often make a concerted effort to recruit students from the local area where the school is located.

Mora noted that incoming LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy compared Goethe with other area schools and was concerned about the lack of diversity. And LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Del Rey, raised similar concerns in an interview with The Argonaut last month.

“The situation in the Del Rey area where there is a charter school that is not serving a demographically representative portion of the community is troubling,” Zimmer said.

Mora said his school has improved its ethnic and socioeconomic demographics and will continue to make a better effort to diversify the student body. According to official LAUSD statistics, for the 2009-10 year, Goethe had a total of 169 students, with 122 students, or 72.2 percent identified as white.

Mora says the school, which this year has 252 students, has increased the number of its Latino students to 13 percent, up from 11 percent last year; its percentage of African-American students to 10 percent, double that of last year, and its number of Asian- and Native-American students to 13 and 2 percent, respectively.

Goethe also has a GreatSchools rating of nine out of a possible 10. GreatSchools is a website that rates public and private schools.

LAUSD statistics show that last year, Goethe had 13 Asian students, seven black pupils and 23 Latino students.

“We have every intention of conducting an extensive outreach campaign,” Mora pledged. “We will improve our diversity.”

Zimmer said the demographics of the charter school are indicative of its efforts, or lack thereof, to have a student body reflective of the neighborhood.

“(Diversity) is either a priority or it’s not,” the school board member said. “It shouldn’t take the school board to act by telling you that you have to improve all demographics, both ethnic and socioeconomic.”

Pierandozzi said she and some of her colleagues predicted that if the application had been approved, Goethe would have requested as many as 27 classrooms for its middle school.

“That’s half of our campus,” she pointed out. “If they stayed here, they would take over our school.”

Mora, who has a child studying at Goethe, said the charter’s intention is not to take over Marina Del Rey. “We continue to stay committed to working with the district for the benefit of all public schools,” the Goethe trustee said.

Zimmer, who says that he is not anti-charter and has publicly spoken well of Green Dot and Westside Innovative School House (WISH) charter, believes the middle school would be placed in an uncomfortable situation if it loses more classrooms.

“If the district offer goes through, it could be very significant (for Marina Del Rey),” he said. “There are parents and students who are on a waiting list for the magnet school who may not be able to get in.”

Mora said Goethe is looking for a location where they can have a space to themselves, which has been one of the primary difficulties for charter operators.

“We are actively pursuing all facility options, including those that the law provides,” said Mora, who added that his school has received over 400 entrance applications. “We have an active committee that is formulating plans for that.”

The lack of available space for the needs and requirements of a school, particularly on the Westside, has led to the need for colocations. But Mora also realizes that purchasing a new property or renting a space large enough to accommodate a school is a challenge.

“Using millions of dollars that would be taken away from education programs would be a difficult decision,” he admitted.

Even with the challenges of sharing a campus, Mora feels that the current situation with Marina Del Rey has not been as bad as some think.

“I think that colocation has largely been a success,” he said.

Pierandozzi feels that state lawmakers should reconsider how colocation has affected charters and community schools.

“I think everything should be revisited,” she said. “When you experience something, it’s different than if you’re just observing something.

“When you come and walk the campus and see what some of the problems are, that gives you a whole new respect for whatever the issue is.”

LAUSD tendered its final offers regarding the number of classrooms that it will allocate to Goethe and other charter operators April 1. Charter schools will decide whether to accept or reject those offers May 2.