The anticipated rollout of the official bidding process on a 2-acre site at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista is expected to draw interest from at least two charter schools that have been waiting for its release for months.
Ocean Charter School and Green Dot Public Schools have indicated that they will be bidding on the elementary school site and are eager to see the guidelines of the request for proposal, the official document that will initiate the process.
The anticipated date for the document’s release is Thursday, Sept. 15. And for those who have been waiting for the bidding to begin, there is a sense of relief.
“I think we’re all ready for it to come out,” said Gary Adler, an Ocean Charter parent whose two sons attend the school.
Troy Takaki, whose daughters are in fourth and fifth grade at Walgrove, said the official process to see who will be awarded the land lease will help defuse much of the misinformation that has been a part of the waiting game since the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it would be offering the unoccupied space at the elementary school to a charter organization.
“I feel like a lot of the rumor mill will be calmed now,” Takaki said.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer told parents, teachers and administrators at Walgrove, Green Dot and Ocean Charter June 15 that the district was creating a pilot program to offer a charter school the space as a means to reduce colocation situations around the Westside.
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 right to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.
Ocean Charter’s fourth, fifth and sixth grades have been colocated at Walgrove since 2006.
Zimmer noted that tension developed between some community and charter schools due to colocation. “It was a painful spring,” the school board member acknowledged.
District 4, which includes Mar Vista, Westchester, Del Rey and Venice, had more colocations last year than any of the other six districts, according to LAUSD.
Zimmer said that as an elected representative, the question for him was balancing two rights: those of students whose families have chosen charter schools, and the rights of community schools to grow programs that they hope will bring children back to neighborhood schools.
“Those two pressures kind of collided this spring,” Zimmer told the audience at the June 15 meeting. “And so my staff and the district facilities’ staff have really been trying to come up with long-term solutions so that we don’t have to go through having to choose between two things that are right every spring and having a lot of tension in the community.”
Ocean Charter parents and members of its administration have expressed their doubts about how fair the selection process will be. Jefferson Schierbeek, a former Ocean Charter board member, said he would like to take Zimmer at his word that everyone will have an equal opportunity to bid on the Walgrove site.
“I have every hope that it will be fair,” he said. “What we heard from Mr. Zimmer was the relationship with Walgrove and the community is important, and we’re trying to be as sensitive neighbors as we can be.”
Local councils have been increasingly become more involved in education matters, and the Venice Neighborhood Council weighed in on the Walgrove land lease last month. At its Aug. 16 meeting the council voted to request that LAUSD consider a middle school at the Walgrove site, with a last minute addition by board member Amanda Seward that included “without excluding elementary or high schools.”
The board also declined to vote on a recommendation brought by Ocean Charter that asked “while the council may support any charter co-occupying the Walgrove campus,” if a school is chosen, that the council endorse Ocean Charter’s continued colocation at Walgrove.
Venice board member Cindy Chambers, who brought the motion to the council, believes the neighborhood council should be taking an interest in what has generated a great deal of interest among their constituents.
“This seems like the perfect opportunity to have this discussion (on the neighborhood council’s role in education),” Chambers said. “The situation at Westminster (Avenue Elementary School in Venice) really gave us the first opportunity to get involved in education.”
Chambers was referring to Green Dot’s desire to share campus and classroom space with Westminster, a move that was met with hostility by the faculty and parents of the school.
Green Dot eventually accepted six classrooms at Cowan Elementary School in Westchester instead of taking classrooms at Westminster.
Chambers also said the council was not trying to play favorites between the two schools. “It was never our intention to exclude anyone,” she explained. “That was not the intent of the motion.”
Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said his organization has been waiting several years to open a middle school on the Westside and sees this as an opportunity to give parents in Venice and Mar Vista another middle school option other than Mark Twain Middle School.
“I think we’ve all been waiting with anticipation (for the request for proposal),” Petruzzi said. “We have had a lot of requests from parents to bring a middle school to their area, and there are an incredible group of parents in Venice and Mar Vista who are very involved in their children’s education.”
Adler said he and his fellow parents have found a home where their children are happy and would like to continue there. “We’re offering an arts integrated curriculum and we hope that all types of education will be considered,” he said.
Ocean Charter parents have recently begun pitching in to help with student drop-offs at the school. Parking, as well as a lack of collaboration with the neighbors and the elementary school, have been major complaints by the Walgrove parents of their charter counterparts for several years.
Takaki said he would like to see the new gesture continue if Ocean Charter is awarded the site. “I could only hope that Ocean Charter would continue to do this consistently,” he said.
Krisztina Tokes, LAUSD’s facilities management director of planning and development, said prior to awarding any entity the right to build, an environmental analysis consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act would take place. The analysis is expected to last between a year and 16 months, she said.