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As Enrollment Dwindles, A Charter School Seeks To Build More Space

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We hope that one day, we'll be gathering to commemorate the opening of the newest Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and Community Park in North Hills.
-- North Hills Preservation Consortium

As covered in a detailed article by Tracy Abbott Cook, the United States is in the 14th year of a decrease in the growth of its population. The LAUSD's Beaudry Bureaucrats have known about this demographic shift since at least April 2006, when they noted that "the number of children being born in LA County... had been dropping since 1990." The decline in the number of school-age children continues today and is not predicted to reverse any time in the near future.

Despite knowing "that enrollment would peak between 2000-2005 and then decline," the LAUSD, led by Board Member Monica Garcia, engaged in a building boom. Instead of improving existing facilities, the district increased capacity just in time for a predicted crash in enrollment. Space is now being given away to charter schools while public school students languish on campuses desperately needing repairs.

Not having learned the lessons provided by the district's missteps, the charter school industry is now taking its turn at the public trough as these publicly funded private schools engage in their own building boom. Ignoring dramatic demographic shifts, they are constructing brand-new facilities even though the enrollment in charter schools remains essentially flat. While special education remains woefully underfinanced, this new charter school construction is often financed by grants and other giveaways by the government.

The Valor Academy Elementary School, which is a franchise of the Bright Star chain of charter schools, has not been immune from the difficulties caused by changing demographics. When Valor submitted its charter renewal to the LAUSD at the end of 2020, it told the district that "the number of students in the first year will be 468". The school fell 13.7% short as only 404 students were enrolled. This student body appears to have been cherry-picked to exclude students with disabilities, who are the most costly students to educate. While "13% of students [in the LAUSD] are classified as having a significant disability", only 8.9% of the students at Valor Elementary have disabilities.

Despite the shortfall in students, Valor has plans to build a campus in North Hills that will serve 552 students, which is above the capacity set by its charter. Like the GALS project in Van Nuys, this charter campus will be built in a residential area that is zoned for single-family houses. The complex's two-story buildings will clash with the existing neighborhood and draw traffic to streets not designed for hundreds of additional daily trips. This is in addition to the traffic that already exists for the middle school that is just a couple of blocks away.


(Image by City of Los Angeles)   Details   DMCA
Valor's plans are an insult to the area's residents who were already hard at work on plans to turn the property into a park and learning center that would serve all children. The lot currently includes a house that was built in 1914 and has been identified since 2014 as a "historical resource" by the LA Office of Historic Resources. Last September, the house was nominated to become a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. In June, the Cultural Heritage Commission agreed to consider the house for historic monument designation after a hearing was held.

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning says that Valor has told them that the existing building "will potentially be incorporated into the operations of the school for administrative uses." This non-committal plan for the oldest existing house in North Hills would eliminate the possibility of implementing the North Hills Preservation Consortium's plans "to restore the house, create a museum depicting early California settlement, and build a new park surrounding the house." The consortium's plan would make the property a resource to the 24 schools that already exist in the area.


(Image by North Hills Preservation Consortium)   Details   DMCA
The preservation of our history and green space is a worthwhile goal in the San Fernando Valley as the area continues to rapidly urbanize. With the number of school-age children steadily declining, LAUSD Board President Kelly Gonez and the LAUSD Charter School Division need to make it clear that Valor's plans for the site in North Hills are unacceptable and that the district will do everything possible to stop them. You can help the cause to stop the #PlummerStreetProject by signing the petition found on Change.Org.


Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He was elected to the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and is the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)
 

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