The ramifications of the lack of real estate on the Westside, the mandate of Proposition 39 and the educational reforms like the “parent trigger” are being played out at campuses throughout the Westside. And at Marina del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, an existing charter school’s desire to expand and take additional classrooms from the existing institution is creating a chasm that virtually no one predicted.
Colocation, where charter and traditional schools share classrooms and often other facilities on Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, is occurring on many Westside sites due to a voter-driven ballot initiative in 2008. While there are examples of coexistence, like Animo Venice Charter High School and Broadway Elementary School in Venice, there is also the case of Marina del Rey Middle School.
The traditional school of 848 students has cohabited with Goethe International Charter School for three years and until this year, in relative harmony. Now many parents and teachers at the middle school are up in arms that Goethe wants to expand from K-5 into a K-6 school, and is requesting additional rooms that are being used by the traditional school.
What is more troubling, according to parents and teachers at the middle school, is the classrooms that are being requested by the charter school are being used for student intervention, parent centers, and in some cases music or arts rooms.
“Everybody is on the same page when we talk about educating students,” said Karen Wolfe, whose son is a sixth-grader at the middle school. “What doesn’t make sense is that in an effort to comply with Prop. 39, the district seems to be willing to take away from traditional school students to give to charter school students.”
Prop. 39 provides for charter operators to have campus space on traditional 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.
The magnet program at Marina del Rey Middle School had planned to expand, but if Goethe is allowed to add a sixth grade class, the program will not be able to, says Nancy Pierandozzi, the magnet coordinator.
“The concern is that their expansion limits our ability to expand, both the magnet and the performing arts academy,” said Pierandozzi. “Because of the location, the district has said that they will not give us that space because we’re colocated.”
LAUSD officials did not return e-mail requests and phone calls for comment on colocation situations.
Vicky Waters, communications director for the state charter association, said charter schools are also public schools and can legally have space on traditional school sites.
“As with any provision of Prop. 39, charter schools are entitled to public school facilities, are entitled to a proportionate share and reasonable equivalent as classrooms, including specialized classroom space and non-classroom space,” Waters told The Argonaut.
Much of the ongoing debate on colocation is centered around what is “reasonable” classroom space. LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer believes that student intervention classrooms and parent centers should not be taken away from traditional school students.
“The potential to lose these kinds of resources is very troubling,” Zimmer said in a recent interview. “Marina del Rey could lose another six classrooms on top of what they have already lost last year, and if the district offer to Goethe goes through, it would be a very significant loss for them.”
Charter schools have made inroads on Westside campuses over the last few years, and with operators like Green Dot Charter Schools and WISH Charter setting up shop in Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey. And while under Prop. 39 charter schools are entitled to space and classrooms that are underused or not in use, the definition of what should be considered operational is confounding parents and educators.
School officials and parents at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice are facing a similar dilemma. Green Dot is waiting for approval from the district to use several classrooms for sixth grade students and, similar to Marina del Rey Middle School, a parent center, as well as science laboratories that the charter school would like to occupy.
“We have ongoing programs like arts, music, science, computer labs that use space in our ‘extra’ classrooms, as well as our cafeteria and auditorium,” said Ann Steinberg, who teaches first grade at Westminster. “These particular classrooms are used for our quality programs that enhance student learning, and are valued by students, parents, and staff.”
Zimmer, who attended a forum at Westminster last month regarding Green Dot’s application with LAUSD to come to the elementary school campus, agrees that charters should have the right to rooms that are not being used by the host school.
“Where there is truly empty space available, charter schools should be able to use them,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s accurate to label parent centers or intervention rooms as ‘nonoperational.’”
At Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista, the administration has presided over a period of academic growth where test scores have risen over the last two years and there is a sense that the school is on the right track to reach LAUSD benchmarks. But some feel that the application of a charter school to use intervention rooms and other classrooms hurts that progress.
“Colocation would undermine this significant progress by denying the current students continued access to critical programs,” wrote Heather Austin, a parent at Grand View Boulevard.
Zimmer said he is not against charter schools and has publicly praised Green Dot and WISH. “I will always honor the choice that parents make to send their children to charters,” he said. “My issue is that I will not honor or validate one parent’s choice over another’s.”
Pierandozzi, who has taught at the middle school for 11 years, said colocation has inadvertently created a situation where traditional and charter schools are now at odds in some cases.
“That seems clear to me,” she said. “I guess that I could say that I was a little naïve and if we didn’t imagine what was happening when (Goethe) came on with first and second grade, we didn’t think much about it.
“But as they grow and expand and the kids get bigger, the impact that it has is really visible.”
Waters said she is unaware of any requests for certain classrooms. “To the association’s knowledge, there have not been any specific classrooms that have been identified,” she said.
Jaime Reynoso, a parent at the middle school, spoke before the LAUSD school board earlier this month to convey his fears of what is transpiring at his children’s school.
“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,” Reynoso said. “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.”
Steinberg said she hopes that if the district approves Green Dot’s application, the charter operator will respect the elementary school’s concerns as well as assist in maintaining what the Venice community has accomplished there.
“If Green Dot does come to our school, I would hope that they would act as a partner in education and consider the needs of all the children. Hopefully, they will try to help preserve the quality of our school by accommodating our needs too,” the teacher said. “If they come, we would all do our best to live with them, and work side-by-side as partners with a common goal of providing the best education we can for our students, although, I do believe that most of us would not be sorry if they decide not to come here.”
Zimmer laments the fact that Prop. 39 seems to have created controversy at some district schools. “Parents at charter schools and traditional schools both want the best education for their students, so it’s very sad to see what is happening with colocation,” the school board member said.
Wolfe realizes that Prop. 39 is state law, but she questions if its intent was to disenfranchise traditional school students in order to provide land for charter schools.
“Does Prop. 39 stipulate that the giveaway of computer labs and parent centers and afterschool programs are ‘extra room’ to be given away?” she asked.
The district will make its final offer to charter schools regarding their applications April 1.