"The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council Board moves to send a letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in opposition to current plan for a Celerity Charter School to move into the Bushnell School."
-Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council
Refugio 'Ref' Rodriguez
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The charter industry likes to argue that they are providing choices for parents. Unfortunately, this choice is sometimes made at the barrel of a gun as a well-functioning public school can find itself under invasion by a charter that seeks to set up shop, uninvited, on its campus. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) tells parents that these co-location arrangements are required by Proposition 39. As is often the case with the District's relationship with charter schools, this explanation does not tell the whole story.
While school districts are responsible for making sure that they have the proper facilities to educate students, charters feel that this is burdensome. Complaining that a "lack of adequate space and facilities for charters can limit their enrollment, and force kids onto waiting lists", they forced districts to provide them with space by adding pork to Proposition 39, a ballot measure whose "primary impact...was to reduce the threshold required to pass local California school district bond issues from a two-thirds supermajority vote to a 55 percent supermajority vote."
Under the provisions buried within the Proposition, "each school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter schools in the district in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending public schools of the district." These facilities "shall be contiguous, furnished, and equipped, and shall remain the property of the school district." The word "co-location" does not appear in the text of Proposition.
For schools suffering from declining enrollment, the risk of a charter being shoehorned into their campus is real. However, schools without extra space are not safe from this encroachment. At a meeting of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, parents and teachers of Bushnell Way Elementary School told of their fight to remain a single, unified school community and how the LAUSD has worked against them.
Those who spoke made sure to point out that theirs is not a failing school. They are not hemorrhaging students like the district as a whole and their facilities are being used by the students. In fact, one teacher reports that there is not even enough room for all of the teachers to park on campus. However, it seems that the district is doing its best to make room for Celerity Charters to move in.
One passionate parent spoke of how the community feels "bullied by charters" who should be responsible for getting their own buildings. There is a feeling that it is not an accident that there has been a succession of three principals brought in to run the school, bringing with it a lack of cohesiveness. Against the wishes of the school community, the District will remove the sixth grade from the school. Plans to add a preschool program and early education have been blocked. A plan to remove aging bungalows to make more room on the playground was suddenly canceled without explanation.
The community also expressed their concerns about having two school communities on one campus. For one, they fear that the children will not understand why they will be segregated from the other students. They already have parking and traffic issues and feel that these will be exacerbated by having a second community that may not be willing to work with them to solve problems. Examples of other co-locations were presented where the existing public school lost control of shared resources like playgrounds, libraries and nursing staff.
The school's Board representative, Ref Rodriguez, also attended the meeting and told the Council that he wanted to hear what the community said before he spoke. He then told the community that "empty classrooms are what put them on the list" and that he would work with them to get additional students into the school. If he had actually listened, he would have known that all he has to do is keep the District out of the school's way. This community already knows what has to be done, but the District has stopped them from implementing these solutions. Of course that would not sit well with the California Charter School Association and their associates who contributed most of the funds for the Rodriguez campaign to defeat Bennett Kayser.
In the end the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to send a letter to the LAUSD opposing the co-location. It was a victory that brought cheers from the assembled community. It remains seen if this opposition will be heard by the Board.
I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.