SARAH AUERSWALD (Left), who has a son who attends a charter school, says she sees nothing wrong with a proposal by LAUSD Board Member Steven Zimmer that asks for more oversight of charter schools.

A proposal by Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer requesting increased oversight and transparency on charter schools has drawn the ire of charter organizations and their supporters.
Zimmer’s resolution calls for a temporary halt to new charter schools or that they be “referred to the Los Angeles County Office of Education until the information and analysis requested herein is provided.”
The resolution, which is slated to be heard Tuesday, Oct. 9, also asks the board to request that LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy create a plan for school facilities that acknowledges “the need of charter students, but balances charter needs with the damage that colocation causes to district students and programs. This plan should help us focus on long-term solutions for our charter partners that will end the yearly impasse of Proposition 39.”
In addition, Zimmer’s proposal recommends the creation of a charter oversight committee that would meet monthly and provide detailed recommendations to the school board about charter authorizations, renewals, amendments, Proposition 39 allocations, authorizing guidelines and issues of governance and oversight.
The District 4 board member, who represents schools in Mar Vista, Del Rey, Westchester and Venice, has stated publicly in the past that unlike traditional schools, charters are not subject to the same type of regulations that non-charter operators are.
In a recent interview, he also addressed the reaction by a group of pro-charter parents at a school board meeting last month where his resolution was announced. “I thought there was a mismatch between the resolution and the reaction to it,” Zimmer said.
The California Charter Schools Association strongly objects to the resolution as it stands. In a letter to LAUSD attorney David Holmquist, the association claims that Zimmer’s recommendation for a moratorium on more oversight would take away the choice from families who have chosen charter schools as an educational option.
“We are writing to express our very deep concerns and objections to the resolution introduced by board member Zimmer,” wrote Ricardo Soto, the association’s lawyer. “At a time when the leadership of the Los Angeles Unified School District is working to transform education for all students and parental demand for improved educational choices is at an all-time high in Los Angeles, this resolution disenfranchises all families in the district by seeking to limit expanded public school educational choices, and by disregarding the board’s legal obligation to hear and act on charter petitions.”
Charter schools are public schools but are not subject to many of the same requirements as their traditional school partners regarding, for example, the number of special needs and English language learners that they are required to admit. They also typically do not have unionized educators.
Locally, there are charters operating in Westchester, Del Rey, Playa Vista and Venice. Green Dot Public Schools has a high school, Animo Venice High School, on the campus of Broadway Elementary School and it has sixth and seventh grades on the campus of Cowan Elementary School in Westchester, which it calls Animo Middle School.
Zimmer said the desire of many parents to have different alternatives – including charter schools – should not clash with what he and others believe to be a need for better regulations and oversight of charter schools.
“There is an undeniable power to the charter movement that is authentic and legitimate,” he said. “But the tempering role of a legitimate governing body is to make sure that during this time of radical change there is no collateral damage to families who make other choices.”
Corri Tate-Ravare, the Los Angeles regional director of the charter association, says her organization is not against accountability or oversight but is opposed to stifling the educational alternatives that many families have chosen.
“Charter oversight is a good thing,” said Tate-Ravare, who also heads Families That Can, a pro-charter school group. “But when there is a resolution that involves stopping the growth of charter schools, that is not a good thing.
“We believe that the resolution should be rescinded.”
In 2010-11, District 4 had the most colocations in the entire school district. Colocations occur when charter schools share campus space and utilize classrooms that are deemed underused or vacant by school district officials. This has caused a great deal of controversy, given that some neighborhood schools have seen resurgence in attention from local families that are working to attract students from the immediate neighborhood.
Under Proposition 39, a voter approved 2000 ballot initiative, charters can petition school districts for rooms at schools where classrooms are not in use. While charter operators have the legal right to these rooms, some local principals and parents blame LAUSD for what they see as a giveaway to outside operators.
They also point to the loss of rooms that are often used as laboratories, computer rooms, intervention rooms, parent centers and in the case of one classroom at Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, the loss of the room where the student newspaper was created.
Because of the tensions surrounding charter schools and neighborhood schools, Zimmer proposed during “Colocation Spring” allowing a charter operator to build a school on a 2-acre plot at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista. Green Dot Public Schools and Ocean Charter School bid on the land and the latter school was selected as the winner by LAUSD, but the school board voted against awarding them the land in March.
Tate-Ravare said parents who choose to send their children to charter schools also deserve to have high quality educational institutions. “Charters exist because of parent demand,” she said.
Zimmer, who announced in The Argonaut earlier this summer that he will be seeking reelection next spring, said those who believe strongly that choosing where to send their children to school nullifies accountability or having oversight as a part of education reform are mistaken.
“The idea that because we believe in choice that we cannot do anything to regulate it is a misunderstanding of choice,” he said.
Sandi Wise, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Education Committee, believes the purpose of the resolution is being misunderstood.
“I think the general public is misinformed and they don’t understand the meaning of what Zimmer is trying to do or they don’t see the bigger picture or they are afraid that ‘temporary’ will mean ‘forever,”’ Wise noted. “This is not going to close down any currently operating charter schools and will affect them only in a positive way.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for the school board to establish some oversight in their charter schools. It’s their responsibility to make sure every student is being served adequately.”
Mar Vista resident Sarah Auerswald thinks more oversight for charters would be welcome.
“I have no problem asking for more transparency from charters – and from LAUSD as well, for that matter,” said Auerswald, who has one son who attends a charter school and another who is in the third grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista.
Wise thinks Zimmer’s resolution has merit.
“I’m in total support of Zimmer’s proposal to put a temporary moratorium on charter schools and set up better oversight,” she said. “Oversight is severely lacking at this point because the charter movement happened so fast.
“Some charters may not need the oversight and are operating quite well, however, other charter schools are cherry picking students and leaving out English learners and special needs students so that their test scores will look better,” Wise added. “Some charters teach using unproven methods like not introducing reading skills until third grade. It’s for these reasons that LAUSD wants to have some oversight, as they should.”
Zimmer stressed that while he does admire the work that some charter operators have done in low income areas of Los Angeles, those who support the charter movement should not impede upon families who continue to send their children to neighborhood schools.
“It’s imperative that one family’s choice does not harm another family’s choice of quality education,” he reiterated.
The United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher, declined to comment on Zimmer’s resolution. Calls to Green Dot were not returned at Argonaut press time.