More LA Charters

Charter firms to operate seven more L.A. Unified schools

In a heated, mid-March Los Angeles school board meeting, major charter school organizations won the right Tuesday to operate at seven of thirteen schools under a policy that allows bidders inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to take control of start-up or academically struggling campuses. Charter schools got most of what they wanted by the end of a 5 and 1/2-hour meeting in which the Board of Education divided up or relinquished ten new campuses, including seven new high schools and three low-performing schools with an enrollment of 20,000 students  next year.

District officials were lobbied to support more charter schools than last year, when groups of district teachers, often working with administrators, prevailed on most plans. This year, the recommendations of L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines included more charters, but a board majority went even further to relinquish control of district schools to outside organizations.  California charter schools are publicly funded and independently run.

Cortines had pressed for low-achieving Clay Middle School to be split between a team from the existing school and Green Dot Public Schools, a highly-regarded charter organization. He spoke in favor of exploring the potential to demonstrate how a charter and a district operation could collaborate. Board President Monica Garcia, however, pushed to have the entire school turned over to Green Dot. Garcia, the close ally of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was joined by the mayor's other allies in approving the full handover. Villaraigosa has spoken frequently of schools being put under the control of groups with "proven track records".

The board also overruled Cortines by giving a new Echo Park elementary school to the Camino Nuevo charter group. He had favored a local coalition of teachers and neighborhood residents because, he said, the charter's emphasis on Spanish language instruction in the early grades was not the right choice for all the students attending that school.

The board did uphold Cortines' recommendation to give a new West San Fernando Valley high school to a district administrator-and-teacher-led  group. That school will includes a performing arts academy.

Some Board members questioned whether the district could afford such an arts magnet program amid an ongoing budget crisis and the potential layoffs of thousands of teachers.

Altogether, seven of eleven charter school proposals prevailed including Synergy, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, PUC and Aspire — all well-established charter organizations. There were not charter bids for every campus. Another winner was MLA Partner Schools, a non-profit that will manage Muir Middle School, where all employees will be required to re-interview for their jobs. Cortines recommended against MLA because of what he characterized as the group's mixed record at two high schools already under its control, but MLA, which isn't a charter, operates schools under the union contract and has faced less opposition from charter-school opponents and leaders of the teachers union.  (Los Angeles Times)