Stepping into the ongoing debate regarding colocation at a popular local school, the Venice Neighborhood Council voted unanimously March 15 to request that Green Dot Charter’s intent to establish a sixth grade class at Westminster Avenue Elementary School not adversely affect the existing school.

The vote endorsed a resolution brought to the local council by Venice resident Sue Kaplan, who is a volunteer at Westminster.

“Be it resolved that the Venice Neighborhood Council recommends the evaluation and allocation of rooms at Westminster Elementary School and other similarly affected schools not adversely impact the students and teachers in these neighborhood schools,” the resolution stated. “The importance of serving protected classes of children be upheld and the integrity of neighborhood schools be prioritized.”

Kaplan thanked the council for backing her resolution. “I was very moved by the board’s vote of support for our neighborhood schools,” she told The Argonaut following the meeting. “And it is gratifying that people understood.”

Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks initially did not think colocation was something that her board should hear. But following a community meeting held by the council’s education chair, Peter Thottam, Lucks said she had a change of heart.

“After hearing from so many people on this issue and learning that (colocation) is happening all over the city, I changed my mind,” she said.

Thottam chastised his fellow board members for not attending the community forum on education, which was held March 12. Only he, Lucks, and colleagues Jed Pauker and Ira Koslow attended the Saturday meeting.

“It’s critical that everyone, board members especially, take an active interest in what’s happening with Prop. 39 and the charter school debate, which is going to keep going on,” he told his colleagues.

Thottam, who has one child and plans to have another, said his family is considering all public school options that will be available to them.

“My wife and I are determined to have the best possible schools that we can,” he added.

The Venice council’s vote makes it the second neighborhood board to weigh in on colocation on local school site campuses.

The Mar Vista Community Council voted March 8 to oppose a charter colocation at Mar Vista and Grand View Boulevard Elementary schools on the recommendation of the council’s education, arts and culture committee.

WISH Charter and Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools Vista are requesting classroom space at Mar Vista schools.

Colocation happens when two schools with different education styles share the same campus, and it is occurring with greater frequency on the Westside. The host local school is required by the Los Angeles Unified School District to yield classrooms that are empty or not being used full-time to the charter operator following the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000.

Proposition 39 was approved by the electorate to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. Charters are public, independently operated institutions that in many cases do not employ unionized teachers and have fewer students than traditional schools.

Green Dot Director of Communication and Campaigns Douglas Weston said his organization does not intend to cause any disruption to the Venice elementary school’s pupils or teachers.

“We have a long history of being a good neighbor,” Weston told The Argonaut in an earlier interview.

Despite the Venice council’s action and the language of the motion, existing neighborhood schools have become wary of colocation, which allows charter schools to use classrooms that parents feel are of critical importance to their children’s well-being.

District 4, which includes Westchester, Venice, Del Rey Marina del Rey and Mar Vista, has the most colocations in the school district, according to board member Steve Zimmer’s office.

Coby Dahlstrom, the past president of the Westchester Endowment Group, a parent group at the elementary school, sees colocation as the unintended consequence of other factors.

“We look and we see declining enrollment in our local LAUSD community schools both elementary and middle, and I believe it is directly related to the rise in enrollment in the charters,” said Dahlstrom, who is also a founding member of Green Dot’s Animo Charter Middle School. “Colocation, rather than solve this dilemma, compounds it. There is a direct correlation.”

What criteria is used to determine which rooms are available is a burning question that has caused increasing frustration to parents and educators who are facing colocations.

The state Charter Schools Association indicated that it was a question for local school districts.

“I’m not aware of any criteria, but that’s also more of a question for the district,” said Vicky Waters, the association’s spokeswoman.

After several calls to the school district for clarification, The Argonaut was able to obtain the following response on colocations from the LAUSD Communications Department.

“Insofar as the district is presently engaged in litigation regarding its compliance with Proposition 39, it is inappropriate for the district to provide a legal opinion at this time,” LAUSD officials said in a statement. “However, please be advised that Proposition 39 was approved by California’s voters in 2000, and amended Education Code section 47614.

“Please refer to that section for the full text of the law, as well as Title 5 C.C.R. section 11969.1 et seq. for the full text of the applicable implementing regulations.”

Kaplan realizes that district and state officials will play an important role in determining how colocation is managed in the future, but also feels that local councils like hers have a role to play as well.

“I know that this support from a neighborhood council is but one aspect in the whole story, but I think that the support shown by this and other neighborhood councils can point the way to more community involvement in our public schools,” she said. “The Westminster Elementary community, too, has learned that neighborhood councils are there for them as well. I hope this paves the way for more collaboration.”

Dalhstrom, whose son is in the fourth grade at Westminster, feels that charters and neighborhood schools should not be pitted against each other due to a lack of factors out of their control.

“Colocation shouldn’t be an ‘us vs. them’ issue between community schools and charters either,” she said. “It is bigger than that. What we have is a state budget crisis, followed by a real estate issue.”

Zimmer, who represents Venice and Mar Vista, addressed the Venice board before its vote. In his presentation, the school board member also brought up the state budget crisis and how it will affect LAUSD if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension proposal is not adopted.

Zimmer noted the academic progress and the intense community support for Westminster and offered this as one of the reasons that he does not support a Green Dot colocation.

“It does not mean that I don’t support charters,” said Zimmer, who has named Green Dot as one of the better independent operators. “It just means that I support what’s happening at the school.

“I support the stability that they’re trying to bring and the advances and the progress that they have made.”

Kaplan, like many other proponents of traditional schools, said her concern is about neighborhood schools losing classrooms that are critical to Westminster and she is not necessarily opposed to charter schools.

“I do want to reiterate that this is truly about the neighborhood schools and is no reflection on the role that charters have in the educational system and how well they fulfill it,” she stated. “But LAUSD taking away educational space or space for potential growth in their own schools is self-defeating and discourages the parents and teachers, who by attending the neighborhood schools are showing their faith in the educational system. That just seems wrong.”

LAUSD will make its final offer to charter schools seeking space at neighborhood schools April 1.