Board Members Want LAUSD To Revamp Process For Sharing Space With Charters

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) want LAUSD to reexamine the annual process for assigning charter schools space under the Prop 39 law requiring public school facilities to be shared fairly among all public school kids.

 Charter school leaders praised the new spirit of collaboration with LAUSD.

Charter school leaders praised the new spirit of collaboration with LAUSD.

LAUSD currently requires charters to reapply for space every year, but Melvoin and Garcia asked the district on Tuesday to consider longer-term leases to bring more stability. "Let’s figure out how to reduce the amount people who have to go year to year,” Garcia said at the monthly charter-focused Board meeting.

“I think the annual prop 39 process is flawed,” said Melvoin, who asked for a task force of district principals and charter leaders to tackle issues arising from charters co-locating on LAUSD campuses. “I think the District spends too much time and resources on it.”

While fewer than 10 percent of schools have co-locations, “it takes more time and causes more conflict than anything else,” Melvoin added. “It’s a burden on both our charter and district staff here at Beaudry, but also principals and teachers and school-site staff…Charter schools don’t know what campuses they’re going to be on. At district schools there’s apprehension about ‘are we going to lose our computer lab? What’s going to happen?’ It makes planning and trust really difficult to build.”

Melvoin told Speak UP that he’s working on organizing a pilot retreat this summer for co-located school leaders to help bring more “sanity and collaboration” to a process that provokes “anxiety” on all sides. He also hopes that more transparency about district space and longer-term leases will dial back tensions and help schools peacefully co-exist so everyone can focus more on the kids.

The discussion about Prop 39 was prompted by Board Member George McKenna (BD1), who raised concerns over who would be part of a Charter Schools Collaborative to work on charter policies. The Collaborative, which was created in 2010 but has since gone defunct, could be revived by a resolution from Board Members Ref Rodriguez (BD5) and Richard Vladovic (BD1) that will be brought for a vote April 10. McKenna asked that district principals be included if the Collaborative plans to work on issues related to co-location.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, district and charter leaders traded Kumbaya kudos over efforts to work together to pass a list of policies that all charters must agree to follow when they petition to open or renew a schools.

“After months of thoughtful, collaborative dialogue with our charter school partners, we’ve moved much closer to a place of common understanding about the policies,” said Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who helped negotiate an end to a stalemate between the district and charters last fall.

That compromise included having the district and charters bring a list of policies before the Board for a vote rather than having policy set unilaterally by district staff. No changes were actually made to the list of policies that charters must follow, although the Rodriguez-Vladovic resolution could lead to some changes.

“We want to keep momentum going, and we want to meet regularly to discuss charter policy,” said Tom Scotti, principal of Port of Los Angeles High School, who was part of a working group that helped endorse the list of policies the Board passed Tuesday.

McKenna, however, did not join the chorus of praise for the new spirit of collaboration that district and charter leaders said they hope will continue to shape policy in the future. “The district is the evaluator not the evaluatee,” McKenna said. “Do you have to be given approval for process and procedure by the people who you’re going to evaluate? Is that their intent to establish how they will be evaluated?” 

District staff assured McKenna that the group’s role was advisory, and Ekchian said that meetings between a working group of district staff and charter leaders have been about building trust, which had been lacking.

“When I hear the term lack of trust, who is not trusting whom?” McKenna asked. “If I am the evaluator…what is my responsibility to gain trust? If I’m not trusted, am I supposed to amend my oversight in order to be more trustworthy?”

Valerie Braimah, executive director of City Charter Schools, addressed McKenna’s question head on. “Our schools really believe in trusting relationships between the supervised and the supervisor,” she said. “What we have found in our schools, oversight built on trust yields better performance. So we believe this process of building trust and collaboration between charters and the district that authorizes them will yield better performance.”