A pre-proposal meeting to update potential applicants and residents who live near Walgrove Avenue Elementary School on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s land lease plan at the school left some of the attendees upset and accusing the district of thwarting community feedback on the pending development project.
Executives from LAUSD’s Facilities Management and Procurement division gave an overview of the technical points of the request for proposal for a charter school at Walgrove that was issued last month at a community forum at Venice High School Oct. 10.
The school district is offering a 2-acre unoccupied plot at the Mar Vista elementary school to a charter organization as a pilot project in order to alleviate tensions caused by the unintended consequences of a voter approved initiative that allows charter schools to share space with traditional schools.
LAUSD anticipates that a charter operator can build a school that could hold up to 500 students at the site.
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 campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.
Thus far, Green Dot Pubic Schools and Ocean Charter School are the only charters that have publicly expressed interest in the land lease proposal. The charter that is chosen will be required to pay for all costs of construction and development, as LAUSD will not be offering loans or investing any funds in the new school.
The relatively congenial discussion soon turned confrontational when LAUSD Procurement Executive Mark Hovatter informed the audience that community participation would be limited to emails to Margaret Caputo of the procurement department until a charter is chosen.
Troy Takaki, whose two daughters attend Walgrove, protested what he considered shutting out community participation prior to the selection of a charter operator.
“It sounds like you don’t care what we have to say,” Takaki told Hovatter.
The LAUSD procurement executive sought to make clear that the written standards and conditions contained in the request for proposal document would be the ultimate guidelines for determining which charter will be permitted to build its school at Walgrove. While community participation is welcomed and encouraged, it will not be the determining factor.
“There’s a danger in getting a false understanding of what the evaluation criteria is going to be,” Hovatter cautioned. “What might be expressed by a member of the community might not necessarily be the same things that we’re going to evaluate the proposal on.”
Venice resident Karen Wolfe also took exception to the district criteria regarding community involvement. She told Hovatter that the Venice Neighborhood Council had passed a resolution in August recommending that LAUSD consider a middle school option at Walgrove without excluding other schools because many families in the area have expressed the desire for another middle school.
“(The Venice and Mar Vista communities) were told that their input would be heard and that there will be an opportunity before a candidate was chosen for them to provide that input,” Wolfe said.
Hovatter said he had not seen the Venice motion, but repeated that LAUSD officials would review and evaluate written comments and perhaps add to, change or amend the application criteria if they feel it is necessary.
“We might have some differences of opinion on the types of things that should be going into the proposal, but I’ll repeat that the things that we are going to evaluate on are the things that we have listed (in the application documents),” he reiterated.
Lorena Padilla-Melendez. community relations director for the facilities division, told the audience that following the selection of a charter at Walgrove, the environmental process will be triggered and community dialogue on a wide range of topics pertaining to the project would ensue.
“Once a site has been identified, then that process would begin once you have an actual project,” she explained. “Right now, you’re just considering what charter partners would be viable for the district.”
Takaki was not mollified.
“I was actually shocked that they were saying that they did not care about community input,” he said after the meeting. “Many of us thought that community organizations would be allowed to have some influence on the decision making process, not the written RFP process.”
Krisztina Tokes, director of asset management in the district’s facilities services division, said LAUSD has not wavered from what it has pledged to do since the land lease proposal was announced in June.
“I think that we have been consistent with what we have said and what the board member (LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer) has said (regarding public input),” Tokes told The Argonaut the day after the meeting.
“We are very interested in making sure that the criteria that we are looking at is the best to determine the charter that is most appropriate for the Walgrove site.”
Prior to the facilities team’s presentation, Zimmer spoke to the small audience.
“We are trying to have an end result that we think will be a net positive for children of the greater Venice area,” he said.
Residents at the meeting who were upset by LAUSD directing them to send in written comments and opinions instead of airing them in a public forum pointed to earlier statements made by Zimmer regarding public participation.
The school board member indicated in conversations with The Argonaut and at the June 15 community forum when the land lease plan was announced 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,” Zimmer stressed. “This is a process that has many steps along the way. There will be public input and public comments.”
Tokes said the district has received comments from the public and has incorporated some into the request for proposal.
“A lot of what has been crafted into the RFP is based on what we have heard from the community,” she noted.
Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said LAUSD answered all the questions that he raised. Unlike other members of the audience, he feels that to date, the manner in which the school district is proceeding regarding taking community input has been sufficient.
“I feel that the community input process that was designed is adequate given the topic and the decision that is needed. The main responsibility of LAUSD is student achievement and equity access to a quality education for all students and families,” Petruzzi said. “LAUSD needs to provide enough classrooms to match the local needs, period.”
The facilities team fielded other relevant questions as well regarding the application process. Ocean Charter Executive Director Kristy Mack-Fett asked the LAUSD executives if a charter school that applies for the land lease but is unsuccessful could still seek space at a traditional school.
A requirement of the winner of the site will be to waive its Prop. 39 rights, meaning that it can no longer seek colocations at another school.
But Hovatter assured Mack-Fett that the charters that are not selected would retain their Prop. 39 rights to seek colocation.
Ocean Charter’s fourth, and fifth grades as well as its middle school hold classes on Walgrove’s campus. The charter was awarded an additional four rooms in April but accepted only two.
Wolfe inquired about the bungalows at Walgrove that Ocean Charter uses as its classrooms. Several schools have these outdoor classrooms at their school sites and they will be removed per state law at the end of the 2012 school year, Tokes answered.
Because the bungalows at Walgrove will be removed, “Ocean Charter will then participate, like any other charter, in the offer process that will be commencing next year where they request space,” Tokes explained.
To review the request for proposal, http://mo.laschools.org/fis/fcs/rfpqm-psc.
The final date for receiving applications is Nov. 9.
LAUSD anticipates selecting a charter school for the Walgrove site by early next year.