LAUSD seeks $2.3 million from four Westside schools that took space from traditional campuses but missed enrollment targets

By Gary Walker

Advocates for traditional public schools in Los Angeles have long complained of losing student enrollment and related financial resources to public charter schools, with neighborhood campuses often forced to give up underutilized classrooms and other facilities in order to house charter schools.

After a sudden policy shift by LAUSD, however, charters that took space from traditional schools but didn’t reach the enrollment targets for which the district allocated that space are being forced to reimburse their host schools by as much as $2,200 per unaccounted for student. Host schools can spend the money at their leadership’s discretion.

Ocean Charter School now faces a bill of $1,265,157 related to its operations on the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets (formerly Westchester High School) campus. WISH Academy High School owes $321,223 related to its footprint on that campus. Goethe International Charter School, which operates on the campus of Marina del Rey Middle School, is being billed $576,726. Citizens of the World Mar Vista, located on the Daniel Webster Middle School campus, is getting a bill for $171,778.

State law adopted 20 years ago allows charters to occupy space on traditional public school campuses, but it also requires charters to reimburse host schools when they fall short of projected enrollment but continue to occupy “over-allocated space.”

It isn’t clear why LAUSD wasn’t attempting to collect current and back over-allocation fees until its Board of Education passed a resolution to do so last month.

The California Charter Schools Association does not contest LAUSD’s right to pursue over-allocation reimbursements, but it does take issue with how some of the fees are being calculated and, most all, with charters taking huge financial hits completely by surprise.

“Since 2012, in an agreement with charter schools the district pledged to notify charter schools by Aug. 15 that they were seeking over-allocation penalties, and we think it’s unfair to spring this on our members after essentially waiving [over-allocation penalties] for so many years,” association attorney Ricardo Soto said. “We [also] believe that the district is acting unlawfully in the way that they have calculated these fees.”

Soto acknowledges that over-allocation fees “can encourage collaboration between two schools” that share a campus.

Nick Melvoin, who represents Westside voters on LAUSD Board of Education, expressed similar reasons for co-sponsoring last month’s board resolution to pursue over-allocation reimbursements — specifically, “alleviating the burdens of co-location and promoting collaboration and harmony between co-located schools,” a statement reads.

But as for why LAUSD waited so long to collect, “I asked the same questions when this came on my radar,” he said.

“I’ve said this publicly before that I’m concerned from a due process and fairness standpoint about going years without charging somebody and then all of a sudden saying ‘You owe us.’ For charter folks who thought they had an agreement and now we’re saying ‘Pay up,’ that doesn’t strike me as a collaborative partnership,” Melvoin continued. “But for charters who owe us a lot of money and have known that they do, we need that money. Some schools have a reasonable argument. But for those who don’t, we need that money.”

WISH Academy and Ocean Charter could not be reached.

“We are working with the district toward a legal resolution that we hope will meet the needs of all of our students,” Goethe International Charter School Executive Director Chris Jones wrote in an email response
to questions.

Asked how she would like to spend over-allocation fees, Marina Del Rey Middle School Principal Lorraine Machado said she’d like to hire a much-needed teacher or a school counselor.