Los Angeles Unified School District officials have yet to release any details of what will be included as part of a request for proposal for a land lease agreement at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista.
On June 21, the Board of Education voted to greenlight the notice of intent that will trigger the next step toward selecting an applicant for a nearly three-acre site of unused land at Walgrove, which is currently involved in a colocation with Ocean Charter School.
“The RFP and criteria are still being developed,” LAUSD spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry told The Argonaut on July 11.
Colocation, where traditional public schools and charters share campuses and other facilities, is occurring with great frequency on the Westside. It is an outgrowth of Proposition 39, approved by the electorate 11 years ago to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.
Ocean Charter and Green Dot Public Schools have both indicated that they will be applying for the land lease. LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer noted at a community meeting at Walgrove June 15 that one of the most debated points of the spring colocation controversy was the definition of what is a classroom that is being utilized. By offering unoccupied land to a charter operator, that problem could be alleviated, he said.
“This also creates an opportunity for our charter partners not to have to worry about the facilities issue year after year after year,” he added.
One board member at Ocean Charter, Jefferson Schierbeek, inquired at the same meeting if his school would have an advantage in the selection process due to its six years at the Walgrove campus and its ties to the Venice/Mar Vista community through the families at the charter school.
“The one question that I have is can and will previous occupancy on the Walgrove site be considered in the RFP?” he asked Zimmer.
Some Walgrove parents asked Zimmer to also keep in mind their grievances with Ocean Charter and factor that into the decision process.
The tensions brought about by colocation could play a role in the land lease negotiations as well. On the Westside, several colocations, with the exception of Broadway Elementary and Animo Venice Charter High School, have created a degree of animosity among parents and students of the host school.
At a July 9 meeting hosted by the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Education Committee, Laurie Hanson, a Walgrove parent, said Ocean Charter has only recently become interested in working with them since the announcement of the land lease proposal.
“They have shown an utter lack of interest in what goes on at Walgrove until the lease was offered,” Hanson, a former Friends of Walgrove president, asserted.
Ocean Charter parents counter that there has been collaboration on colocation committees and that Walgrove students have been invited to plays put on by the charter school.
Because of the lack of any concrete data concerning guidelines that LAUSD might use, Schierbeek’s question on previous occupancy considerations may be hard to answer.
Zimmer’s office said it will likely be August before the document is released, which means no petitioner for the lease will have an idea what the district will require of the applicants to submit for consideration. Initially, it had been stated that the RPF would be released approximately a month after the board’s vote.
Goethe International School, which teaches primarily a German immersion curriculum, colocates with Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey and is also seeking its own space.
“We continue to consider all permanent facilities opportunities and we’re eager to see what possibilities there are (at Walgrove),” board member John Mora told The Argonaut.
Goethe solicited the LAUSD school board to expand to a middle school in the spring but its request was denied.
Mora said his organization will not consider submitting a petition to LAUSD for the land lease until the RFP is made public.
Green Dot, which has a high school, Animo Venice, on the campus of Broadway Elementary School in Venice, has been seeking to build a middle school on the Westside for several years. An attempt to colocate at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice in February was beaten back by a wave of protests from Westminster parents and teachers.
A number of parents at Westminster and Walgrove have signed a petition to bring a Green Dot middle school to the Venice/Mar Vista area as an alternative to Mark Twain Middle School, which is a few blocks from Walgrove.
After withdrawing its petition at Westminster, Green Dot was offered and accepted a colocation at Cowan Elementary School in Westchester.
Zimmer, according to his office, would like to have several options for the land lease. His preference is to have a middle school at the site, either as a K-8, 6-8 or 6-12 school. Ocean Charter’s student population is split between a Christian school in Del Rey, which houses its K-3 students, and the Walgrove campus, where grades 4-8 attend.
Zimmer has indicated in conversations with The Argonaut and at the June 15 meeting that while the tenets of the California Environmental Quality Act mandate public input, he would like to create an atmosphere where community input would also be a significant part of the lease petition process.
“This is not a bullet train,” he stressed. “This is a process that has many steps along the way. There will be public input, and public comments.”
Ocean Charter’s situation is a bit more unique than that of Green Dot, Goethe or other charter operators that may apply for the land lease. Its students on the Walgrove campus are housed in bungalows, which will be removed after the next school year.
The Ocean Charter school board has been conducting outreach to gather ideas and suggestions regarding LAUSD’s land lease proposal.
“OCS is strongly committed to developing plans that incorporate the needs and concerns of neighbors, Walgrove staff and parents and the community at large,” Ocean Charter School Board President Fran Montano wrote in an email to parents earlier this month.
Green Dot and Ocean Charter representatives could not be reached for comment for their ideas on what they think should be considered in a land lease agreement.
Prior to awarding any entity the right to build, an environmental analysis will be conducted, and that is expected to last between a year and 16 months. The charter that is selected will be responsible for construction costs, and the entire process is slated to take three years.