After more than three months since the release date was announced, the Los Angeles Unified School District made public the official document that will trigger a bidding contest between charter schools for a 2-acre parcel of land at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer told an audience of interested parents, teachers and school officials June 15 that the district would be offering the unused portion of land at the elementary school as a land lease to a charter organization in an effort to relieve the tension that has been caused by some charter schools sharing facilities and taking classrooms from community schools in the district, known as colocation.
Colocation occurs when a traditional school and a charter share classrooms and common areas on a campus. It is an outgrowth of Proposition 39, a 2000 voter-approved initiative that mandates school districts to provide equal access to charter schools on community school campuses where there are unused or empty classrooms.
The Argonaut obtained a copy of the official 33-page document, which lists all the criteria for applying for the land at Walgrove.
The request for proposals (RFP) mandates in the project requirements sections that all applicants be in good standing with LAUSD; present a credible development and education plan and program that acknowledges community engagement; have a strong local track record of public instruction and operation as a charter school; as well as have a valid charter granted by LAUSD.
Each applicant must also submit a cover letter, an overview of the charter and its proposal for the new school, and a description of its record of success, according to the document.
There are several categories in the application that are worth a percentage of points and others are listed as simply pass/fail.
And an important requirement for those bidding on the land lease will be for them to “describe how the charter will engage with and relate to the existing Walgrove Elementary School.”
Two charter schools, Green Dot Public Schools and Ocean Charter School, have indicated that they are interested in applying for the land lease site.
Ocean Charter is currently involved in a colocation with Walgrove. Fourth through eighth grades of the Waldorf-based school share space with the elementary school, and Ocean Charter’s kindergarten through third grades hold their classes at a Del Rey Christian church.
Karen Wolfe, a Venice parent who has a daughter in fourth grade at Ocean Charter School, did not find anything in the document that stood out to her.
“It seems like a standard RFP,” said Wolfe, who formerly worked for the famed architect Frank Gehry and has experience with requests for proposals. “I didn’t really see anything specific regarding academics.”
LAUSD envisions a school at the Walgrove site that will hold 500 students. The charter that is chosen will not share any of Walgrove’s facilities and will be required to develop its own infrastructure, including buildings, required parking and outdoor play space.
The selected school will hold title to the improvements for the term of the lease, which is anticipated to be 40 years or upon earlier termination, according to the request for proposals.
The Mar Vista Community Council and the Venice Neighborhood Council have taken an interest in education over the last year. Mar Vista hosted an education summit in the spring and at its Aug. 16 meeting, Venice voted unanimously to support a motion asking that LAUSD consider a middle school at the Walgrove site without excluding an elementary or middle school.
Dozens of parents at Walgrove and from Venice schools have signed petitions in favor of a Green Dot middle school in the Venice/Mar Vista area as an alternative to Mark Twain Middle School, and the council’s motion sought to reflect that desire.
Cindy Chambers, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council, said the host school for the land lease should have a voice in the decision about what type of school is built on its campus. “I would like to hear from parents, neighbors, faculty and staff from Walgrove to learn their thoughts about that space and the RFP, as well as the other applicants,” she said.
The board also declined to vote on a recommendation brought by Brigitte Hellsten, a parent from Ocean Charter School, 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, due to the fact that the RFP had not been released.
Chambers said the Venice council had not discussed whether they would consider supporting a particular charter after all of the charters have applied.
Babak Nahid, the chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s education, culture and arts committee, did not return calls for comment.
There are also those who do not want to see a charter school on the Walgrove campus. Sandra Wise, who lives near the elementary school, indicated as much in a letter to the Venice council after she attended the Aug. 16 meeting.
“I represent a large number of residents who do not want to see our last remaining open spaces disappear along with Playa Vista. We do not want a charter school built on Walgrove’s campus at all,” wrote Wise, a 20-year Venice and Mar Vista resident.
“If we don’t fight against this, it will continue to happen on every school campus. We want to see Walgrove continue its growth, both in community enrollment and in test scores. The Walgrove community has made tremendous strides in turning that school around and I believe this is only the beginning. There is talk of a language magnet on their campus right now as well.”
Wise said that although some parents feel that they need a middle school option other than Mark Twain, like Walgrove, the middle school is also improving.
“Mark Twain is also on an upswing and school reform is on the way. We want to see Walgrove and Mark Twain turn into a school that everyone wants to go to and we are ready to work toward that goal,” she wrote.
Wolfe, whose son left Ocean Charter after the fifth grade and is now enrolled at Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, was surprised that no mention of the type of school – elementary, middle, high school – that LAUSD is considering for the site was mentioned in the application.
Zimmer had stated previously that he would like to see a school with a middle school component.
“It will be interesting to see if the LAUSD will be looking at this deeper or if they are just trying to relieve the unintended consequences of Prop. 39,” Wolfe said.
Green Dot operates several schools in Los Angeles, including Animo Venice High School in Venice, which is involved in a colocation with Broadway Avenue Elementary School.
The stakes are high for Ocean Charter. The bungalows that the school occupies at Walgrove are slated to be removed from the elementary school campus next year, and that has been on the minds of parents and board members while they have been waiting for the release of the request for proposal.
All applications for the Walgrove land lease must be turned in to LAUSD by Nov. 9.
The Walgrove RFP is posted at: www.laschools.org/employee/fcs/efqs-rfps.