During the myriad conversations regarding colocations between community schools and charter organizations in Los Angeles, the potential loss of classrooms has been a prime topic of discussion. The possible effects on the neighborhood school and the students seemed difficult to define except in abstract terms.
At a Del Rey middle school, one teacher says she is seeing the ramifications of sharing space with a charter operator up close and personal in the faces of her 38 students who work on the school newspaper. Due to colocation, they are losing classroom 55, where they produce the school newspaper but this fall it will house students from Goethe International Charter School.
Naomi Roth, an English teacher at Marina Del Rey Middle School, is also in charge of the school newspaper, The Mariner’s Log. When Goethe, which shares part of the campus with the middle school, accepted two additional rooms in June, one of them was the bungalow where the computers for the journalism class are stored.
Under Proposition 39, a voter-driven initiative that became state law in 2000, charter operators have the right to colocate, or share space, with traditional schools and they are also permitted to petition a school district for the use of classrooms that are underutilized or vacant.
Roth sees the loss of her classroom as one of the many consequences of a state law that allows for charter schools to use facilities of a community school under a criteria that both charter operators and traditional institutions see as ill-defined.
“It is a direct result of this law that seems to be a good idea for some, but not for a lot of students of traditional schools,” she lamented. “We’re going to try and put all of the computers in one classroom, but I don’t think that we’ll be able to do it.”
Most Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools do not publish a newspaper, Roth said, and that is a source of pride at the school.
“We live in an informational society,” the teacher said. “This journalism class not only gives students an opportunity to create their own newspaper on campus but teaches them how to access and compile information at an early age.”
One student, Reuben Carbajal, expressed his thoughts about losing the room that he and others used to create the school newspaper in an editorial last month entitled, “Goethe, Go Home!”
“Our own journalism lab is being swallowed up by Goethe,” he wrote. “Instead of having a stand-alone pressroom, the staff will be crammed with its computers into one room.”
Goethe is now in its second year on the middle school campus and is planning to welcome more students in the fall.
“We continue to stay committed to working with the district to meet the needs of all public school students,” said John Mora, a member of Goethe’s board of trustees. “We regard the students of Marina Del Rey Middle School and Goethe International Charter School as equals and look forward to working together to ensure they are both provided quality learning environments.”
The school yearbook is also produced online in room 55, as well as other journalism projects, and Roth says not having as many computers with which to work will make the process much slower and not as efficient.
“It’s 88 pages, and without the same number of computers it will take a lot longer for us to produce it,” she said of the yearbook. “Without this space to work and the needed computers, our efficiency will possibly plummet, given fewer computers.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe says the school district, while recognizing the need to honor Prop. 39, is also charged with creating an atmosphere where students from community schools are not harmed.
“Both schools are public and entitled to public school facilities,” said DeSobe, who works for a charter operator. “LAUSD should take responsibility in equitably accommodating the needs of all public students and develop offers that don’t put public students and their families against each other.”
That sentiment of one school being pitted against each other is prevalent at Marina Del Rey Middle School and others in District 4, which includes Del Rey, Westchester, Marina del Rey, Venice and Mar Vista. District 4 had the most offers to charters for colocation in the school district, according to LAUSD records.
Roth, who will also lose the room next to the one that housed the newspaper class’ computers, is further dismayed that LAUSD is planning to refurbish room 55 with new furniture for the charter school. She feels like that is adding insult to injury, saying “(Goethe) is getting a beauty makeover, which we never had as long as we were in this room.”
She said the class was visited earlier this month by Alex Negrete, a representative of LAUSD’s construction branch, for a safety inspection of the rooms that Goethe will be using in the fall.
“Where is the fairness in all of this?” Roth asked. “To me, the implication was clear: safety for the students of Marina Del Rey Middle School is not paramount, but when the young children of Goethe move into these classrooms, they have the right to safety.”
Nancy Pierandozzi, the magnet coordinator at the middle school, calls the loss of the journalism room a domino effect of colocation.
“If one person has to move out of their classroom, then the next person might have to leave theirs, and on and on,” she said. “Suddenly, you’re shifting three or four teachers to accommodate four classrooms that Goethe was given.”
DeSobe said LAUSD has alternative solutions that it could pursue to alleviate situations like the middle school losing its journalism laboratory. “There is bond funding specifically allocated to charters that LAUSD controls and they should use it to develop long-term solutions,” he said.
DeSobe was referring to Measure Y, passed in 2002 to repair and upgrade aging and deteriorating classrooms and restrooms and build new neighborhood schools. Another is Measure Q, a $7 million bond that LAUSD officials claimed, with its passage in 2009, would create less-crowded schools and help finance charter organizations.
Pierandozzi said the administration at the middle school asked Goethe to consider classrooms that would impact them less than the journalism room. “Now we have to move a reading lab and another teacher is getting bumped to another room as well,” she said. “It’s kind of like being in a merry-go round: you get to land for a little while and then move on.”
Roth is determined to keep her journalism class, comprised of seventh and eighth graders, intact, even though it will be in a new room in September, with less space and fewer computers.
“We’ll just have to make do, wherever we are,” the teacher said with a resigned sigh.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Del Rey, declined to comment for this story.