By Gary Walker
A charter school created by a Westchester parent and a former Orville Wright Middle School teacher has filed a legal action against the Los Angeles Unified School District over not receiving offers at local schools in order to share space at their campuses.
Westchester Secondary Charter School, a proposed 6-8 secondary school that would like to eventually expand to a middle and high school, filed a lawsuit April 2. The plaintiffs contend in court papers that under Proposition 39, school districts are required to “make reasonable efforts to provide the charter school with facilities near where the charter school wishes to locate.”
The school’s founders, Ann Wexler and Janet Landon, were denied a charter by LAUSD last year but were later approved by the county Office of Education.
LAUSD offered them 14 classrooms at Bret Hart Middle School in downtown Los Angeles on April 2. Six other charter schools were offered classrooms at schools in District 4, which includes Mar Vista, Del Rey, Venice and Westchester.
Prop. 39, a 2000 voter approved ballot measure, provides charter operators with the opportunity to have space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are considered underutilized or vacant. School districts tender offers to charters at schools where these classrooms exist and charters then determine whether they will accept or refuse them.
“(Westchester Secondary Charter School) wishes to locate in the Westchester community of Los Angeles, where its targeted students live or have historically attended school. There is more than sufficient space for (Westchester Secondary School’s) 300 students at (the school’s) four comparison schools located in or near Westchester, based upon the operational capacity of those schools and the district’s projected enrollment on those campuses during the 2013-14 school year and taking into account the district’s policy of 75 seats serving at secondary schools for additional unanticipated enrollment,” the brief states.
Wexler, a special education attorney, said she and Landon filed the legal action as a last resort.
“We resorted to a lawsuit only after the district indicated it would not change our offer without a court order,” she said.
Wexler, whose daughter graduated from the former Westchester High School two years ago, said one of the main reasons that she and Landon founded the local charter was to have the school in their community.
“Most of the schools Westchester families choose to attend are significantly closer than Hart. Regardless, (Westchester Secondary Charter School) was founded to address the problems associated with families traveling away from their community to find appropriate educational programs for their children, not add to them,” she explained. “Attending schools far from home is a hardship for families, and some families aren’t able to secure transportation.
“We are called ‘Westchester’ because we recognize the importance that local connections, including parent and local business involvement, can provide to a neighborhood school,
Wexler added. “Currently our board is primarily made up of Westchester civic leaders and local educators, and we have seats reserved for parents as well. We have been engaging the local community for three years to establish this school (and) locating outside of the area would require building new relationships and perhaps even a different charter design.
“In addition, a Westchester location allows us to attain our goal of ensuring a diverse student body, targeting not only Westchester, but those communities that have traditionally attended Westchester schools, including Playa del Rey, View Park-Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, and Playa Vista.”
They are receiving moral support from the state organization that represents charter schools.
“The California Charter School Association is supporting Westchester (Secondary Charter School) in its effort to obtain an adequate school facility, as it is entitled to by state law,” said Sierra Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the association. “As the statewide association, we track all lawsuits and legislation affecting charter schools and provide a variety of support to our member schools, including legal support in some cases.”
Lawsuits by charters and the state association have become commonplace since the passage of Prop. 39. Charter schools received an important victory on June 27 when a Los Angeles Superior Court found that the district had not acted in accordance with the guidelines of an education related ballot initiative that became law 12 years ago.
The original legal action against LAUSD was filed May 17, 2007 for what the charter association believed was a lack of compliance with Prop. 39. A court settlement was reached April 22 of the following year but the association filed to have the terms of the settlement enforced May 24, 2010.
In that case, Superior Court Judge Terry Green wrote, “LAUSD’s use of ‘norming ratios’ to determine whether the number of classrooms to provide charter schools in LAUSD’s Prop. 39 facilities violated Section 11969.3(b) (1) of the Prop. 39 Implementing Regulations and LAUSD thus failed to provide facilities to charter schools ‘in the same ratio of teaching stations as those provided to students in the school district attending comparison groups.’”
Five months later, an appellate court ruling Dec. 6 struck down the June 27 decision and gave LAUSD a victory in what has become a contentious topic of discussion among parents, LAUSD administrators and parents since charter operators began petitioning for classroom space under Proposition 39.
The ruling states that charters will be awarded the same number of spaces per room that LAUSD uses.
As an example, if 30 pupils are placed in an LAUSD school classroom, charter schools will be allotted rooms at a traditional school that will be calculated by the same ratio.
Lydia Ponce, a parent community representative at Venice High School, thinks the Westchester Secondary School lawsuit is the inevitable consequence of Prop. 39 as well as the Public Schools Choice Resolution, a 2009 initiative approved by LAUSD that permits charter schools and independent school operators to seek leadership of failing schools in the hope of improving student achievement.
“(With Prop. 39 in place) charters can decide to do whatever they want to do without considering the students at the existing campus (where they wish to colocate),” said Ponce, whose daughter is a recent Venice High graduate. “There’s an inequity issue when you have some students receiving support from the district and sometimes newer classrooms and facilities and other students do not.”
Wexler believes LAUSD can accommodate her school on the Westside, despite the number of charters that are seeking space in District 4.
“There is sufficient room for us on several Westside campuses. While it is true there are new charters in development, several charter schools are vacating Westchester campuses next year,” she said. “We believe it is a good thing that there are more public middle and high school options available for parents.”
LAUSD officials did not return calls for comment.
Westchester: Charter files suit against LAUSD to get access to local school campuses
By Gary Walker